Submission to Inquiry into Queensland Civil Partnerships Bill

UPDATE 6 January 2016:

 

The Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee tabled its report in Queensland Parliament on 17 November 2015[i].

 

The cross-party Committee failed to support the Bill: “[i]n this instance the committee was not able to reach a majority decision on a motion to recommend that the Bill be passed.”[ii]

 

Liberal-National MPs on the Committee opposed the reintroduction of civil partnerships, and optional ceremonies, to such an extent that they did not even allow submissions and relevant evidence to be included as part of the main report – this information was only included as part of the Government Members Statement of Reservation.

 

It was therefore only because of ALP Committee Members Mark Furner, Jim Madden and Mark Ryan that we know 27 of the 29 submissions made were in favour of reintroducing civil partnerships.[iii]

 

Government Members also reported that, as at 4 November 2015, 6,856 mixed-sex couples had taken advantage of Queensland civil partnership/registered relationship schemes, compared to only 1,227 same-sex couples (thus demonstrating the need to retain alternative relationship recognition options even after marriage equality is finally legislated federally).

 

I am also thankful that Government MPs saw fit to include two quotes from my personal submission:

 

  • “The decision to abolish civil partnership ceremonies, and the haste with which it was achieved, was an unjustified, divisive and mean-spirited act – and I commend the current Queensland Government for taking steps to undo the damage that was done three years ago” on page 12, and

 

  • “In my view, the term ‘civil partnership’ is a much more accurate description of the relationship which exists within couples who wish to have their partnership formally recognised under state law, whereas, to me, ‘registered relationship’ is a more sterile term which merely describes the process of recognition rather than the relationship itself” on page 19 of the report.

 

The Bill was then debated in Queensland’s Legislative Assembly on Thursday 3 December 2015. It was supported by all Labor MPs as a piece of Government legislation.

 

Somewhat surprisingly, given the behaviour of their MPs on the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee, the LNP offered a conscience vote to its MPs and half chose to exercise their vote to support the Bill, meaning that it passed by a large majority: 64 votes in favour, compared to only 22 votes against.

 

Once again, I am grateful that Government MPs quoted my submission – both the Member for Brisbane Central, Ms Grace Grace, and the Member for Ipswich West, Mr Jim Madden, used the first quote highlighted above.

 

The Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Act 2015 received Royal Assent on 17 December 2015, and its provisions, restoring civil partnerships and once again allowing couples to hold a formal civil partnership ceremony if they so choose, will commence sometime early this year.

 

Thankfully, one sad, recent chapter of Queensland’s LGBTI history is now closed. Although there remain a variety of areas which still require action by the Palaszczuk Government, including (among others):

 

  • Equalising the age of consent for anal intercourse
  • Introducing adoption equality
  • Abolishing the homosexual advance or ‘gay panic’ defence and
  • Expunging historical homosexual convictions.

 

ORIGINAL POST:

Submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Queensland’s Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015 close tomorrow (Monday 19 October 2015). Full details on the inquiry, including how to submit, can be found here: <https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/work-of-committees/committees/LACSC/inquiries/current-inquiries/07-RelationshipsCPOAAB15 Here’s my own submission:

Research Director

Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee

Parliament House

George St

Brisbane QLD 4000

lacsc@parliament.qld.gov.au

Sunday 18 October 2015

Dear Committee Members

INQUIRY INTO THE RELATIONSHIPS (CIVIL PARTNERSHIPS) AND OTHER ACTS AMENDMENT BILL 2015

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission to this inquiry that is considering the details of the Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015.

I write in support of the Bill, for two main reasons:

  1. The term ‘civil partnerships’ is strongly preferred when compared to the term ‘registered relationships’.
  2. The Act restores the right of couples to enter into a civil partnership by holding a civil partnership ceremony if they so choose.

The first point may seem comparatively minor, considering it relates only to nomenclature, but terminology is important, particularly when it describes something as personal as the relationship between two members of a couple.

In my view, the term ‘civil partnership’ is a much more accurate description of the relationship which exists within couples who wish to have their partnership formally recognised under state law, whereas, to me, ‘registered relationship’ is a more sterile term which merely describes the process of recognition rather than the relationship itself.

It is also my view that the term civil partnership is more likely to be understood, and accepted, by members across the community, whereas the term registered relationship is less likely to attract widespread social acceptance from others.

The second reason why I support the Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015 is more substantive, and that is because it restores the ability of couples to enter into a civil partnership by holding a civil partnership ceremony.

Importantly, it is not compulsory – couples that wish to pursue this option will be able to do so, while other couples will be able to enter into a civil partnership without holding a ceremony.

I wholeheartedly agree with the description of this reform contained in the letter from the Director-General of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General, Mr David Mackie, to the Committee dated 1 October 2015:

“This is being done to support the dignity and equality of each and every Queenslander by giving them the opportunity to formally declare their commitment to their significant.”

In fact, it is difficult to conceive any rational justification to oppose these provisions – after all, who would want to actively deny their fellow citizens the choice to hold a civil partnership ceremony, if that is what the couple desired?

And yet, that is exactly what the majority of Queensland Members of Parliament did in June 2012, voting to strip away the ability of these couples to hold a formal ceremony. Not only that, the removal of these rights was such a high priority for the (then) newly-elected Newman Liberal National Government that is was enacted within three months of its landslide victory.

The decision to abolish civil partnership ceremonies, and the haste with which it was achieved, was an unjustified, divisive and mean-spirited act – and I commend the current Queensland Government for taking steps to undo the damage that was done three years ago.

I also commend the Palaszczuk Labor Government because, in introducing the Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015, it is doing what it can within the powers of a state government to recognise the diversity of relationships that exist in contemporary society.

With the High Court finding in December 2013 that only the Commonwealth Parliament has the power to legislate for marriage equality, but the majority of Members and Senators of that Parliament showing their continued unwillingness to recognise the full equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians, it is pleasing to see a state government providing the opportunity for all couples, including LGBTI couples, to enter into civil partnerships – and offering the choice to hold a civil partnership ceremony, too.

Even after marriage equality is finally enacted by our recalcitrant federal parliamentarians, the ability to enter into a civil partnership under state law will remain an important option for those couples who do not wish to marry for whatever reason (and that includes both cisgender heterosexual couples, and LGBTI couples).

For all of these reasons, I support the Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015, and urge Committee Members, and indeed all Queensland MPs, to ensure it is passed by the Parliament as a matter of priority.

Finally, I note that the renaming of civil partnerships, including restoring the right of couples to enter into a civil partnership by holding a civil partnership ceremony if they so choose, is just one of several important measures which are required to ensure LGBTI people are finally treated equally under Queensland law.

Other necessary reforms include abolition of the gay panic defence, the introduction of adoption equality, the equalisation of the age of consent for anal intercourse and the expungement of historical convictions for gay sex. I look forward to these issues, and more, being addressed by the Queensland Parliament in the near future.

Thank you in advance for considering this submission. Should the Committee require additional information, or wish to clarify any of the information above, I can be contacted at the details below.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath introduced the Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015 in September.

Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath introduced the Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015 in September.

[i] Final Report: https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/committees/LACSC/2015/07-RelationshipsCPOAAB15/07-rpt-014-17Nov2015.pdf

[ii] Ibid, p4.

[iii] Ibid, p12.

George Brandis, Tony Abbott, Marriage Equality & CNIs

Marriage Equality Red Background Rings

This week saw the passage of marriage equality in Uruguay, and then New Zealand. Next week will witness France adopt marriage equality legislation. These are the 12th, 13th and 14th countries around the world to have done so.

This spate of activity has provided renewed focus on the issue of marriage equality within Australia. In particular, it has prompted more people to scrutinise the position of Tony Abbott and the Liberal-National Opposition, because they will almost inevitably form Government after the election on September 14th.

Some people have pointed to Tony Abbott’s recent comments to say that he is softening his stance of marriage equality. Specifically, he has said that the matter will be debated inside the Coalition party-room after the election, with the possibility that they may adopt a conscience vote on the matter.

I disagree that this is necessarily a positive development. Instead, I think Abbott’s position is a complete cop-out. It avoids legitimate scrutiny in the lead-up to the poll, leaving voters unclear exactly what he, and his Government, will do once in office.

It also means that people and groups who oppose marriage equality can exert their homophobic influence behind closed doors to ensure that there is no progress. No doubt bigots like the Australian Christian Lobby will be there, actively lobbying in secret, with their decidely un-christian views.

The potential outcomes of this ‘evasive manoeuvre’ by Abbott include that the Coalition’s policy does not change, and that there is therefore no conscience vote next term. We could also end up with civil unions, a so-called compromise which basically nobody wants, but which seems to be favoured by people like Warren Entsch, who has traditionally been one of the more progressive Liberal MPs.

In fact, civil unions seem to me like the most likely outcome of an incoming Liberal-National Government. I genuinely can’t see marriage equality happening under someone as fundamentally conservative as one T Abbott, and that is why I fear we may still be three terms away from Australia-wide reform. Imagine how many countries we will have fallen behind by then?

But, there is one scenario in which we could even go backwards in terms of marriage equality in Australia. I know, that doesn’t seem possible, but there is actually one marriage reform which has been implemented by the current Labor Government which could be wound back under a Coalition Government, in what would be a worst-case scenario.

This would involve the incoming Attorney-General, who will most likely be Senator the Hon George Brandis SC, revoking the January 2012 decision by the then Labor Attorney-General, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP, which allowed Australian LGBTI-inclusive couples to obtain Certificates of No Impediment (CNIs) to marry overseas (in the countries that require them).

In fact, this would simply be the Coalition reverting to the policy which they adopted from 2004 to 2007, when, under then Attorney-General, the Hon Philip Ruddock MP, the Liberal-National Government refused to issue CNIs to same-sex couples, thereby cruelling the chances of most Australian LGBTI-inclusive couples from taking advantage of overseas developments.

To be honest, I don’t know how likely this worst-case scenario is. I would hope that we have come a long way since the end of the Howard era in 2007, and that an incoming Abbott regime would not wind back this particular right.

On the other hand, many Queenslanders probably thought last year that, even if he wasn’t going to be a pro-equality champion, Campbell Newman and the LNP wouldn’t wind back existing LGBTI rights. How wrong they were.

Anyway, that is why I have written the following letter to Shadow Attorney-General Brandis, and copied it to Mr Abbott. Basically, I am asking them to support marriage equality, through party policy or at least a conscience vote. But, if they are unable to do either of those, to at the very least continue to grant CNIs to Australian LGBTI-inclusive couples to marry overseas.

I don’t know what kind of reply to expect. But, as always, whatever I get I will post here.

This is the text of the letter which I sent yesterday:

Dear Senator Brandis

Marriage Equality and Certificates of No Impediment

I am writing to you about the issue of marriage equality, and specifically the policy which the Liberal-National Opposition will take on this issue to the Federal election to be held on 14 September 2013.

I am a 34 year old man who has been together with my wonderful fiancé for almost 5 years – and we have been engaged to be married for more than 3 of those.

All we want is to be able to have a legally-recognised wedding ceremony in front of our family and friends in our own country. All we want is exactly the same rights which other Australians already enjoy.

I strongly encourage the Liberal-National Opposition to support marriage equality as formal policy ahead of the September poll. This would show that the Liberal-National Coalition accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians as first-class citizens, deserving of both respect and full legal equality.

Failing that, and as a bare minimum, the Liberal and National Parties should publicly commit to holding a conscience vote on this issue in the next term of Parliament, so that those MPs who wish to support LGBTI equality are free to do so. There have already been several Liberal MPs and candidates who have expressed their desire to take advantage of a non-binding vote to support marriage equality, should one be granted.

Finally, I have a specific question relating to the Attorney-General portfolio. In 2005, your Coalition colleague, the Hon Philip Ruddock MP, as Attorney-General prohibited the granting of Certificates of No Impediment (CNIs) to Australian LGBTI-inclusive couples who wished to marry overseas.

This ban remained in place until overturned by the Hon Nicola Roxon MP on 1 February 2012. This allows Australians couples, and those LGBTI-inclusive couples which include dual or multiple nationalities, to take advantage of the growing number of countries to have implemented marriage equality.

Just this month, Uruguay, New Zealand and France have become the 12th, 13th and 14th countries to accept marriage equality, as part of a growing worldwide movement. Even if the Australian Parliament does not grant marriage equality in the near future, should not mean we are prevented from taking advantage of the equality that already exists overseas.

My question is this: Do you commit a Liberal-National Government to continuing to grant CNIs to LGBTI-inclusive couples who wish to marry overseas?

I would appreciate your reply on all the issues raised in this letter, but in particular, on whether a Liberal-National Government would continue to grant CNIs to all Australian couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Thank you in advance for considering this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

2nd Anniversary of Election of O’Farrell Government

So, last week I wrote a column on behalf of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) for the Star Observer, looking at the 2 year anniversary of the election of the O’Farrell Liberal-National Government in NSW. It has been published today, and can be found at the following link: http://www.starobserver.com.au/opinion/2013/04/03/speaking-out-6/101597 . I will publish the full text of the article here next week (ie after the current edition).

Basically, NSW has not gone backwards on LGBTI law reform over the past 2 years, unlike our neighbours North of the Tweed under Premier Campbell Newman (who continues to wage war against the rights of and services for the Queensland LGBTI community). It is unclear which model the likely incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott will follow (although one has to suspect he will be more like Newman than O’Farrell).

But just because O’Farrell and his Government have not gone backwards doesn’t mean there has been any great progress either. The next 12 months will be key, in particular seeing whether he and his Government support state-based marriage equality, abolish the homosexual advance or gay panic defence and continue, and hopefully expand, the Proud Schools program.

Full text:

As always, there has been a lot going on over the past month, including the community’s response to police (mis)conduct during the Mardi Gras Festival, as well as the Legislative Council’s hearings into State-based marriage equality laws.

One event which almost went unnoticed was the 2nd anniversary of the election of the O’Farrell Government, which happened last week. This officially marked the halfway point of this term of Parliament.

Many people in the LGBTI community probably greeted the election of a Liberal/National Government back in March 2011 with a degree of trepidation, not knowing exactly what to expect on gay and lesbian issues. The good news is that there have not been any major backwards steps on gay and lesbian law reform in NSW.

In fact, there have been some small wins, with the continuation of the Proud Schools pilot, and the passage of a symbolic motion in favour of marriage equality by the Legislative Council in mid-2012. However, there have been no major advances on gay and lesbian rights under the O’Farrell Government so far either.

As the Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, we believe that over the next 12 months it is time for the Liberal/National Government, and the Parliament more broadly, to demonstrate its commitment to treating the LGBTI people of NSW equally.

There are three major legislative and policy issues which are already on the agenda for the coming year. The first is the Upper House Inquiry into the partial defence of provocation, which is due to report by 2 May. We will be looking for the O’Farrell Government to abolish the homosexual advance or ‘gay panic’ defence, because non-violent sexual advances should never be a justification to downgrade a murder conviction to manslaughter.

The second issue is the State-based marriage equality Bill, which should be voted on later in 2013. The GLRL wants parliamentarians of all political persuasions to support the legal recognition of the equality of same-sex relationships.

The third issue which is already on the agenda is a decision on the long-term future of Proud Schools. At the Lobby, we believe that all LGBTI students deserve to have an education free from bullying, prejudice and discrimination. Consequently, we want to see Proud Schools continued and indeed expanded across NSW.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, and the Lobby will be campaigning on other issues, including removing religious exceptions in anti-discrimination law and calling for a review of the criminalisation of commercial surrogacy arrangements, during the ‘second half’ of this term.

But, by acting on the three issues identified above, the O’Farrell Government, and the NSW Parliament generally, would demonstrate that they genuinely believe LGBTI people should be treated equally. Time will tell.

OFarrell hand

Premier O’Farrell – We won’t let you put these issues to one side this year…

My Top 12 of 2012

On the last day of 2012, I thought it might be an opportune time to reflect on the major achievements, and disappointments, for the LGBTI community over the past 12 months. The following list of 12 highlights (or indeed ‘lowlights’ for a few) include a mix of domestic, and international, developments, as well as a couple which are not directly LGBTI-related, but which indirectly could have a major impact on LGBTI people. Of course, any ‘list-making exercise’ involves inherently subjective judgments about what is important, and I would be interested to hear your views about what should have made the list but is not included (and vice versa).

And so, in no particular order, here are my 12 highs and lows of 2012.

Gardasil Vaccine Image

1. Boys to get free Gardasil vaccine

On 12 July, Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced that, from next year, boys aged 12 and 13 would be provided with three free doses of the Gardasil vaccine, which protects against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This is a massive long-term win for the LGBTI community – and in particular gay and bisexual men – and finally overturns the homophobic decision of the previous Government to exclude teenage boys from the National Immunisation Program.

The then Health Minister, Tony Abbott, who initially resisted listing Gardasil for anyone, eventually chose to restrict free access to Gardasil to school-age girls on the basis that this would protect these girls from HPV, and the boys who would in future sleep with them, thereby reducing the prevalence of HPV across the ‘broader community’. Except that, obviously, it would do little to reduce HPV prevalence amongst men who have sex with men, who would not be immunised.

This is significant because, while most people understand that HPV causes cervical cancer, it also causes penile, anal, and mouth and throat cancers. So, as a result of Tony Abbott excluding boys from accessing this vaccine from its commencement in 2007, there will be a six year cohort of gay and bisexual men who could have been protected against the cause of many types of cancer, but will instead potentially suffer long-term serious health consequences. To me, that is the epitome of the phrase blood on his hands.

Still, this is not to detract from the announcement by Minister Plibersek, and the amazing achievement that all gay and bisexual men born in Australia from the year 2000 onwards will have a dramatically reduced risk of developing cancer. Well done, Tanya.

2. National LGBTI Aged Care and Ageing Strategy

Another major achievement by the Federal Government this year was the release of the National LGBTI Aged Care and Ageing Strategy by the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler. This strategy, released on 20 December, is absolutely essential to help end the stigma of silence surrounding, and the direct and indirect discrimination confronted by, older LGBTI people as they engage with aged care services and enter aged care facilities.

The fact that it was released at all is a testament to the hard work, over many years, by people such as academic Jo Harrison, and the National LGBTI Health Alliance, and of course to a Minister and Government that was willing to both listen to, and work with, the community on this issue. The strategy is also backed up with a commitment of funding (at least $2.5 million), which will help aged care service providers to learn how to be inclusive of LGBTI individuals, couples, carers and their families.

However, this is funding that must also be protected from a Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, who has already identified this bucket of money as a potential saving should the Coalition win Government next year. So, well done Mark, and hands off, Joe.

3. Government MPs, including PM Gillard, join with Coalition to vote down marriage equality

Of course, when it comes to assessing the record of the Federal Government on LGBTI rights in 2012, most people will (quite understandably) not be able to look past the failure of the parliament to pass marriage equality. Dozens of ALP MPs, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan, and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, joined with all but one member of the Coalition (Liberal Senator Sue Boyce, who notably abstained), to vote against legislation which would have finally granted genuine equality to same-sex relationships.

This defeat was inevitable because of the decision by the ALP national conference in December 2011 to grant a conscience vote to its parliamentarians, rather than enforce a binding vote in favour of marriage equality. But just because defeat was inevitable, and expected, does not mean it was any less devastating for those of us longing to be acknowledged as first-class citizens.

Indeed, the scale of the defeat – 98 votes against and 42 in favour in the House of Representatives, and a somewhat closer 41 votes against and 26 in favour in the Senate – was particularly disheartening, especially as it shows the fight for equal marriage is likely ten or more years away from success.

The fact that the Prime Minister was one of those who stood intransigently against LGBTI Australians is something that will never be forgotten. This is someone who is able to identify and eloquently denounce sexism and misogyny ‘wherever she sees it’, but who either has a blind spot when it comes to homophobia, or who warmly embraces it. Shame, Julia, shame.

*The one positive development when it comes to marriage equality under federal law came in January when the Attorney-General Nicola Roxon implemented another ALP national conference decision, which was to allow same-sex couples marrying overseas to be issued with Certificates of No Impediment (CNI). As well as overturning the homophobic policy of previous Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock, this decision means that many more Australian couples – like Steve and I – will at least be able to marry elsewhere, even if our own country doesn’t recognise it.

4. Campbell Newman rolls back the clock

One of the most disappointing developments of 2012, especially for someone who grew up in Queensland during the 1980s and early 1990s, was the speed and scale of the newly-elected Liberal-National Party Government’s ‘crusade’ against LGBTI rights. Elected with a huge majority (78 seats out of a parliament of 89), Campbell Newman and his colleagues wasted no time in identifying the number one issue which they needed to address – the fact that LGBTI Queenslanders had come dangerously close to being accepted as equal.

In their first 9 months in office, the Newman LNP Government has:

  • Removed funding for the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC), the only HIV/AIDS peak body in the state which services the men who have sex with men (MSM) community. The Health Minister Lawrence Springborg attempted to justify this decision on the basis that HIV rates were rising faster in Queensland than in the rest of the country – but the figures released later in 2012 showed that HIV rates have actually declined in Queensland, counter to a national rise. Which leaves just one possible explanation for why QAHC was defunded – the homophobia of the LNP and Minister Springborg.
  • Amended the civil union laws, which had been introduced by the Bligh Government at the end of its term, to remove the ability of same-sex couples to have a legally-binding ceremony. Apparently having any ceremony at all was ‘mimicking’ marriage and needed to be outlawed as a matter of priority.
  • Announced that it will remove the ability of same-sex couples (as well as single people) to access surrogacy. It is still unclear what the penalty will be for couples who break this proposed law, although at various times during the year it appeared the Newman Government would introduce gaol terms for people whose only crime was attempting to found a family.
  • Introduced a new ‘student protection’ policy which will require school staff, including counsellors, to report to the principal any sexual activity between a student under 16 with someone over 16 (irrespective of their actual age difference), and of any student between the ages of 16 and 18 who has engaged in ‘sodomy’. This policy further entrenches the discriminatory age of consent provisions in Queensland (which has a higher age of consent for anal intercourse), and poses a danger to the health and safety of students who are simply seeking counselling and advice. At this stage it appears that school nurses – who are employed by Queensland Health rather than the Education Department – are exempt from this policy, although how long that exemption lasts remains to be seen.

The christian fundamentalist war against LGBTI people being waged north of the Tweed is a possible blueprint for a newly-elected Abbott Liberal-National Government to implement federally. Which makes the federal election to be held sometime during 2013 all the more important. In the meantime, the LGBTI people of Queensland are watching their rights being dismantled, one at a time. Shame, Campbell, shame.

5. Uganda debates ‘kill the gays’ bill

There have been several distressing stories internationally during the year. The appeals court in Cameroon upholding a three-year gaol term for Jean-Claude Roger Mbede simply for sending a text message to another man saying “I’m very much in love with you” was heart-breaking. The backwards steps being taken in Russia are also an obvious concern (not only do gay pride parades remain banned, but attacks against LGBTI Russians are rising at the same time the Russian parliament is considering legislation to outlaw ‘propaganda of homosexuality among minors’).

But without doubt the number one ‘lowlight’ internationally this year was the move by parliamentarians in Uganda to introduce capital punishment for homosexuality. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill (or Kill the Gays Bill as it is commonly referred), if passed, would mean Uganda would join 7 other countries where homosexuality is subject to the death penalty, out of 76 countries where being LGBTI is still a crime.

As the year ends there has been a short reprieve, with the Bill not coming on for a vote until at least February 2013, and some reports that the death penalty may ultimately be dropped from the Bill – although sadly not imprisonment. Still, the prospect of a country potentially introducing capital punishment for homosexuality this decade is almost too depressing for words.

Allout image

6. The emergence of AllOut (@allout)

One of the key groups which emerged to draw attention to, and fight against, the Kill the Gays Bill, was AllOut (a New York-based organisation which uses online and real-world tools to help the global LGBT movement for equality). In fact, I would argue that the emergence of AllOut is itself a major highlight of 2012.

AllOut is taking the best and most up to date models of activism and applying them to causes as diverse as LGBTI equality in Brazil, same-sex parenting in the EU, ending gay ‘cures’ in California, as well as trying to help stop the Ugandan Kill the Gays Bill. Here’s hoping that AllOut has a long and proud future, as it complements the work of existing and established organisations like the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA).

7. International moves towards marriage equality

Another highlight of 2012 was the ongoing progress of the marriage equality movement. Leaving aside victories in the US (which I will discuss below), marriage rights were extended to LGBTI couples in Denmark in June. And the governments of Scotland, Luxemburg and France have all committed to marriage equality in the next few years. In England and Wales, and New Zealand, it appears likely that equal marriage will be passed next year by parliaments with conservative governments (Tory Prime Minister David Cameron is helping to drive legislation in Westminster, while National Party Prime Minister John Key has indicated he will support a private member’s bill in the Beehive).

The fact that two conservative leaders have embraced marriage equality shows just how far this movement has come over the past few years, and the fact that further progress is inevitable. Of course, it also further underscores just how out of touch and embarrassing Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are on this issue, but one day they too will be mere footnotes to our record of achievement.

8. The United States takes a giant leap for LGBTI ‘humankind’

It seemed like 2012 was the year in which the United States of America, and its people, finally ‘got it’ when it comes to LGBTI equality. The President, Barack Obama, announced that he supported marriage equality back in May (in part because he could muster no arguments against it when discussing the topic with his daughters). He was subsequently re-elected to serve a second term, and it seems that his pro-equality stance was a help rather than a hindrance (something which Julia Gillard should – but probably won’t – notice).

But Obama’s re-election was just one of many victories on Tuesday November 6 – a date on which LGBTI rights in the US took a bigger step forward than any single day since the Stonewall Riots in 1969. After 32 consecutive losses in state-wide referenda on same-sex marriage, all four states which voted in November bucked the trend and supported equality. As a result, Maine, Maryland and Washington became the 7th, 8th and 9th US states to introduce marriage equality, while a referenda to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota was also defeated.

The significant of these victories should not be underestimated. For years, the radical right in the US has used these ballots to ‘get out the christian vote’ – indeed, Karl Rove employed this strategy to help George W Bush secure re-election as recently as 2004. Instead, in 2012, the American people decided to vote for acceptance and inclusion rather than intolerance and hate. What. A. Change.

To top things off, in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin was elected as the first openly gay person ever to serve in the US Senate. And that’s not even counting the fact the most influential political analyst of the US election was a gay man, Nate Silver.

This truly was a watershed election, and paves the way for bigger changes in the future. Which might be upon us sooner than we thought, with the US Supreme Court to hear cases considering both Proposition 8 (the Californian ban on same-sex marriage), and the constitutional validity of the Defense of Marriage Act, in 2013. Let’s hope that the Court’s decisions are amongst the highlights (and not lowlights) of next year.

120525_nelderkin_idjfrankocean_055x

9. Hip-hop comes of age

There was a similar sea-change when it came to US popular culture this year. After many, many, many years of waiting, it seems like hip-hop finally started to change its homophobic ways, and to deal with the subject of homosexuality with a little bit of respect rather than just a whole lot of ‘faggots’ and ‘fucking homos’.

Leading the charge was Jay-Z, who followed Obama’s announcement by declaring that he too backed equal marriage rights. Other hip-hop stars also expressed their support. Rappers Macklemore and Ryan Lewis then released one of the best bits of pro-LGBTI propaganda of the past few years (well, outside of the 2011 GetUp! video anyway) in the form of single Same Love, which was also used in the successful marriage equality referendum campaign in Washington State. And Azealia Banks (of 212 fame) came out at as bisexual in February, a statement which may take on even more significance in February 2013 when she releases her debut album.

But for mine the most important development in hip-hop in 2012 was the beautiful and tender letter written by rapper Frank Ocean, talking about his first love – a man – and published the week before his full-length debut Channel Orange was released. This was a hip-hop star not just coming out, but coming out at the start of his career, and making no apologies for who he was and who he loved.

Of course, there have been other music stars who have come out (Elton John, George Michael, KD Lang, Melissa Etheridge, and countless others), but usually this has been at the end of their careers – or at least long after they were well established. Even ‘out and proud from the beginning’ groups like the Scissor Sisters (personal favourites of mine) have played in the more traditionally gay-friendly genres of pop and dance, rather than the decidedly less accommodating field of rap/hip-hop.

What made Frank Ocean’s declaration even more significant was that he backed it up with what has been widely recognised as the best album of the year – which is just one of six categories in which he is nominated for a Grammy. Channel Orange is a brilliant collection of highly personal songs, including several which are sung to or about a male love interest. Bad Religion is just about the best piece of art on the subject of unrequited (same-sex) love ever. Frank Ocean didn’t just make gay hip-hop for a gay audience, he made great hip-hop that covered many topics, including same-sex love, and looks to have found a large audience around the world. Even if you don’t like his music, you cannot help but admire his accomplishments.

10. Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse

This is the first of two developments which are not explicitly LGBTI-related but which are fundamentally important to all Australians, including the LGBTI community. The decision by the Federal Government to appoint a Royal Commission into child sex abuse is a necessary first step in dealing with this evil scourge, as well as recognition of the courage of people like Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox and numerous others in pushing for it, despite many setbacks along the way.

There are two potential long-term consequences for the LGBTI community as the Royal Commission runs its course. The first is that the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, and other religious organisations, will become ever more apparent. Some of the same religious figures who have been arguing about the so-called ‘perils’ of recognising the love between two consenting adults, have also been involved in negligent inaction within their own churches about the very real problem of child sex abuse. Some may even ultimately be found to have engaged in the criminal cover-up of child sex abuse, instead preferring to pay hush money to the victims and simply moving the offenders around. The fact that the broader community will be able to see through the hypocrisy of these figures should make it much easier to push for LGBTI equality in the future.

The second consequence is much more ambiguous. One tactic which christian fundamentalists could resort to during the Royal Commission is to blame ‘gay priests’ for child sex abuse, and to try to link homosexuality and paedophilia in the public debate. This strategy, blaming ‘the gays’ for child sex abuse, was used by bigots like France Arena in NSW in the 1990s, and it is easy to see it being attempted again – with much unpleasantness all round.

But I think this ultimately could be a good thing. Public understanding of these issues has moved on since then. Provided the Royal Commission is handled sensitively and gay and lesbian lobby groups are ready for the debate, this could actually be an opportunity to forever break any connection between these two essentially unrelated ideas (homosexuality and paedophilia).

11. Asylum seekers are sent to Nauru and Manus Island

Again, this ‘lowlight’ is not directly LGBTI related. But I would include it here because any time a country turns its backs on asylum seekers – to the extent that it chooses to send them to detention centres in other countries for unspecified periods of time – is something so terrible that it cannot, and must not, be ignored. To put it bluntly, this is a national disgrace, and something which the Labor Government and Liberal-National Opposition should forever be ashamed about. Unfortunately, given the current state of political debate in our country, there does not seem to be much hope this situation will change any time soon.

Of course, as I have written previously, there are LGBTI dimensions to this issue as well. There will inevitably be some asylum seekers who are sent to Manus Island and Nauru who were seeking asylum in Australia because of LGBTI persecution in their home country. It should also be noted that, for gay and bisexual men who are detained in either of these centres, both Nauru and Papua New Guinea criminalise male homosexuality, and so they may be exposed to prosecution on that basis. Still, this is an issue which is larger than just these injustices to LGBTI asylum seekers – no asylum seeker should be imprisoned simply for seeking safety from persecution. Not now, not ever.

12. Exposure Draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012

I thought I might end on a positive note – and also something which represents unfinished business for 2013. In November, the Federal Government finally released the exposure draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012. As well as consolidating the existing protected attributes of race, sex, disability and age, this Bill would for the first time provide federal anti-discrimination protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians (*at this stage, intersex people are not properly protected, although hopefully that will be rectified during the committee stage).

If passed, this legislation would be another significant LGBTI-related achievement by the Labor Government. Building on relationship recognition and public sector superannuation reforms in 2008, passport changes for transgender people, Gardasil vaccinations for boys and the National LGBTI Aged Care and Ageing Strategy (both above), this would contribute to a fairly broad-based and substantial record of reform. To some extent, it is a shame that the failure to recognise marriage equality is so large a defeat that it overshadows much of this significant level of achievement. But then the Government has no-one to blame for that than itself.

Still, that is getting ahead of ourselves. Returning to the Bill, there are two major hurdles left to overcome. The first is in securing sufficient cross-bench support so that the Bill passes the House of Representatives, although the noises on this seem to be positive. The second, much more difficult, hurdle to overcome is ensuring that the legisation is passed before the federal election is called. With at most five months of sitting time left in this parliament, it is touch and go whether the Bill will be passed in time. Whether it does is the most important domestic LGBTI story of the first half of 2013. Fingers (and toes) crossed.