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…

NSW State Same-Sex Marriage Inquiry Introductory Comments

On Friday (15 March 2013) I had the privilege of appearing with the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby at the Legislative Council inquiry hearings into state-based same-sex marriage laws. While the Lobby’s co-convenor Justin Koonin gave some brilliant introductory comments on behalf of the Lobby and gay and lesbian communities more generally, I was able to give an introductory statement outlining how the issue of marriage equality affects me personally (and of course Steve too, who attended in the public gallery).

Below is the text of the statement which I read out at the inquiry hearings (I will provide a link to the published transcript of the full proceedings, including questions and answers, when they are published on the NSW Parliament website):

NSW State Same-Sex Marriage Inquiry Introductory Comments

I have been asked to appear on behalf of the Lobby as both a Committee member, and as someone who is directly affected by whether state-based same-sex marriage is introduced in NSW.

My fiancé Steve and I have been together for more than four and a half years, and we have been engaged for more than 3. Needless to say, he made me the happiest man alive when he said yes when I asked him to marry me in January 2010. And yes, I did get down on bended knee to propose.

However, unlike most engaged couples, we knew that, because of the 2004 federal Marriage Act amendments, our prospective wedding would not be legally recognised in our own country, and that the federal government did not issue Certificates of Non Impediment to get married overseas.

Since then, we have been actively playing the ‘waiting game’’: waiting to see if the ALP National Conference would agree to marriage equality, waiting to see how federal parliament would vote, and now waiting to see whether NSW will introduce same-sex marriage – more than 3 years since Steve said “Of course I will”, we are still waiting to see whether we can both legally say “I do.”

Of course, we cannot and will not wait forever. Fortunately, CNIs can now be issued, so getting married in another country is a possibility. This could even include New Zealand, after this week’s successful 2nd reading debate vote there.

But getting married in another country is significantly more expensive, means that many family members and friends would not be able to attend our special day, and still would not be legally recognised at home.

Please don’t misunderstand me – we are glad to have more choices than we did back in January 2010. But those choices come with costs – legal, financial, social, and emotional. Steve and I, and thousands of other same-sex couples across NSW, are confronted with these negative consequences right now.

Critics of marriage equality often claim that its introduction would be a form of social engineering. To the contrary, I submit it is social engineering to determine that only people of a particular sexual orientation, or indeed gender identity or sex, have certain rights.

Surely it is an arbitrary and intrusive level of state intervention for governments to determine on these grounds whether a couple can get married under law, how long they might have to wait, whether they have to go overseas, and as a result, how much it costs, or even who can attend.

These are the real world consequences of the upcoming decision by NSW parliament on whether its same-sex attracted citizens can get married.