Did You Know? South Australia Still Hasn’t Abolished the Gay Panic Defence

[Updated 23 February 2020: A response from South Australian Attorney-General Vickie Chapman is included at the end of this article; and Updated 8 June 2020 with reference to a motion passed in the South Australian Legislative Council]

For those who are not aware, the ‘gay panic’ defence (sometimes referred to as the homosexual advance defence) was a partial defence to murder in Australia.

Part of the broader partial defence of provocation, the gay panic defence applied where a defendant killed another person but claimed it was because they lost control in response to an unwanted, non-violent sexual advance by the victim.

If successfully raised, the defendant would be convicted of manslaughter instead of murder, and generally a lower maximum sentence would be imposed.

If this sounds abhorrent, that’s because it was. Primarily used in circumstances where a heterosexual man killed a gay man, the gay panic defence was nothing short of legalised homophobia.

It told society that one of the most awful things that could happen to a heterosexual man was to be ‘hit on’ by a gay or bisexual man.

It told gay and bisexual men their lives were not as valuable as other members of the community.

Despite this, the gay panic defence was upheld as valid by a majority of the High Court of Australia in the infamous case of Green v The Queen [1997] HCA 50.

The injustice of this outcome was eloquently described by Justice Michael Kirby in his dissenting judgment to that decision:

“If every woman who was the subject of a ‘gentle’, ‘non-aggressive’ although persistent sexual advance… could respond with brutal violence rising to an intention to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm on the male importuning her, and then claim provocation after a homicide, the law of provocation would be sorely tested and undesirably extended…

Any unwanted sexual advance, heterosexual or homosexual, can be offensive. It may intrude on sexual integrity in an objectionable way. But this Court should not send the message that, in Australia today, such conduct is objectively capable of being found by a jury to be sufficient to provoke the intent to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm. Such a message unacceptably condones serious violence by people who take the law into their own hands.”

But that was exactly the message that Kirby’s High Court colleagues chose to send. And it sent a message to state and territory parliaments around the country: the only way to end the gay panic defence was for them to amend the partial defence of provocation.

As well as a third and final message to the LGBTI community – that we needed to engage in eight separate campaigns to remove the stain of the gay panic defence from the law books.

Seven of those campaigns have been successful. As with many LGBTI law reforms, Tasmania was the first to act, abolishing the partial defence of provocation entirely (therefore including the gay panic defence) in 2003.

Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland have also chosen to abolish provocation entirely, while New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory have instead legislated that non-violent sexual advances (including same-sex advances) are not a valid defence to murder.

Queensland was the last of these jurisdictions to take action – abolishing the gay panic defence in 2017.

Unfortunately, though, that leaves one jurisdiction that has so far failed to take action. It also means that the use of the past tense, in the introduction to this article, was incorrect.

That’s because today, 2 February 2020, the gay panic defence is still a partial defence to murder in South Australia.

That seems extraordinary – the first Australia jurisdiction to decriminalise homosexuality, in 1975, is the last to reform a law that says a heterosexual man killing a gay or bisexual man who makes an unwanted, non-violent sexual advance towards him is less culpable than other killers.

Of course, LGBTI rights advocates in South Australia have long called for the repeal of the gay panic defence.

The South Australian Law Reform Institute has also recommended this change, calling for the partial defence of provocation to be abolished in April 2018.

The current Liberal Government has even agreed. On 9 April 2019, South Australian Attorney-General Vickie Chapman issued a media release titled ‘State Government moves to abolish provocation defence’, including the following comments:

The Marshall Liberal Government will introduce legislation abolishing the defence of provocation by the end of the year, after announcing today a Bill will be drafted to go out for extensive consultation…

“The fact that an outdated legal position such as this is [sic] still exists is disappointing, to say the least,” Ms Chapman said…

“Cabinet has now approved the drafting of a Bill that reflects the Marshall Government’s response to the [South Australian Law Reform] Institute’s recommendations, and ensure our laws in this area are brought up to date.”

Ms Chapman said key stakeholders – such as the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Courts Administration Authority and victims’ rights groups – would be consulted on the draft legislation, with a view to bringing a Bill before the Parliament by the end of the year.

Unfortunately, the end of 2019 came and went, but legislation ending the gay panic defence in South Australia was nowhere to be seen.

There does not appear to be any current Bill before the South Australian Parliament to end this abhorrent partial defence. Nor has there been any follow-up media release from Ms Chapman as far as I can ascertain.

Indeed, the only thing that comes up when searching for ‘gay panic’ or ‘provocation’ on the website of the South Australian Attorney-General’s Department is that initial April 2019 release promising reform before the end of last year.

This situation is obviously not good enough. In the third decade of the 21st century, it is simply unacceptable that the law of an Australian jurisdiction still provides that killing a gay or bisexual man who makes an unwanted, non-violent sexual advance is in any way justifiable.

It’s time for the South Australian Government to live up to its promise to end the gay panic defence once and for all. With Parliament resuming this coming Wednesday, 5 February 2020, what better time to get started.

Take Action

You can write to the Premier, or Attorney-General (or both!), calling for them to implement their promise to abolish the gay panic defence as a matter of priority. Their contact details:

 

The Hon Steven Marshall MP

Premier of South Australia

GPO Box 2343

ADELAIDE SA 5001

premier@sa.gov.au

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marshall_steven

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMarshallMP/

 

The Hon Vickie Chapman

Attorney-General of South Australia

GPO Box 464

ADELAIDE SA 5001

AttorneyGeneral@sa.gov.au

Twitter: https://twitter.com/VickieChapmanMP

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vickiechapmanMP/

 

My own email to the Attorney-General, and copied to the Premier:

Dear Ms Chapman,

I welcome your promise of 9 April 2019 to abolish the gay panic defence (media release: ‘State Government moves to abolish provocation defence’).

However, I note your commitment that this legislation would be introduced before the end of last year does not appear to have been met.

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, there is no room in the law for this partial defence, which tells society that one of the most awful things that can happen to a heterosexual man is to be ‘hit on’ by a gay or bisexual man.

More importantly, this law tells gay and bisexual men their lives are not as valuable as other members of the community.

With South Australian Parliament resuming on Wednesday 5 February, I look forward to the Government introducing legislation to abolish the gay panic defence as a matter of urgency.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

 

The following response was received from Attorney-General Vickie Chapman:

21 February 2020

Dear Mr Lawrie

Abolition of the ‘gay panic’ defence

I write in response to your email of 2 February 2020 to myself and the Premier, the Hon Steve Marshall MP, regarding the repeal of the so-called ‘gay panic’ defence.

I acknowledge your concerns that legislation to remove the gay panic defence is yet to be introduced in Parliament. As I have previously made clear, my views are that the gay panic defence is offensive and unacceptable, and I appreciate what the removal of this defence means to so many in the LGBTQI community.

To that end, I advise that officers in the Attorney-General’s Department are working on the Bill to make significant changes to this area of law, largely based on recommendations contained in the South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALRI) Report on The Provoking Operation of Provocation.

The defence of provocation is a complex area of sentencing law, and it is important that the legislation to remove the gay panic defence is properly considered. Accordingly, it has been necessary for me to seek expert advice regarding the abolition of the defence in murder cases as well as consider further reforms to sentencing and defences relating to family violence. The potential implications of the removal of the defence are significant and there are aspects of provocation laws that should remain in our sentencing regime, including for example, where domestic violence victims kill an abuser in self-defence.

The Bill will abolish the common law defences of provocation, necessity, duress and marital coercion and substitute statutory defences for necessity and duress. The partial defence of provocation (which has been, in some circumstances, used as a defence to unwanted same-sex advances) will be abolished.

The passage of this Bill remains a priority for the Government. It is my intention to progress the Bill to consultation in the first quarter of this year.

Thank you for your interest in this issue.

Yours sincerely

Vickie Chapman MP

Deputy Premier

Attorney-General

 

On Wednesday 3 June 2020, the South Australian Legislative Council debated a motion proposed by Greens MLC Tammy Franks calling on the SA Government to take action to finally abolish the gay panic defence.

Liberal Minister Lensink, representing the Attorney-General, reiterated the Government’s commitment to take action, stating “The passage of this bill remains a priority for the government. It is the Attorney’s intention to progress the bill to wider consultation in coming months.”

Which, as the above correspondence makes clear, we’ve frankly heard before. Hopefully this time they follow through, with the full urgency this issue deserves.

On the positive side, the motion, while amended, nevertheless passed and featured the following statement: “That this council condemns the continued existence of the so-called ‘gay panic’ provocation defence for murder.”

On a personal note, it was also pleasing to be cited during ALP MLC Irene Pnevmatikos’s speech in the debate, who referred to this article and the above response from Attorney-General Chapman to my correspondence from earlier this year. Sometimes old-fashioned advocacy can still make a difference.

 

Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 1.37.30 pm

An excerpt from Irene Pnevmatikos MLC’s speech during the debate on 3 June 2020.

 

Chapman

South Australian Attorney-General Vicki Chapman.

This article is part of a series. Find other ‘Did You Know?’ posts here.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Submission to South Australian Law Reform Institute Consultation on Removing LGBTIQ Discrimination

South Australian Law Reform Institute

c/- salri@adelaide.edu.au

Monday 6 July 2015

 

To whom it may concern,

Submission to South Australian Law Reform Institute Consultation on Removing LGBTIQ Discrimination from South Australian Laws

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission to the South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALRI) public consultation on removing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people from South Australian laws.

While I am not a resident of South Australia, I am a passionate advocate for LGBTI rights, and I provide the following comments on possible ways to improve the legal situation of LGBTI people in South Australia, especially in terms of their protections under anti-discrimination law.

Specifically, I would like to suggest three major reforms to the South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (the ‘Act’), namely:

  1. Amend protected attributes to:
    1. Modernise wording around gender identity, and
    2. Genuinely include intersex status.

The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 currently provides protection to lesbian, gay and bisexual people through section 29 (and subsequent provisions of the Act), because of the definition of ‘sexuality’ in section 5: “sexuality means heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality.”

While the SALRI may wish to consider whether to recommend amendments to the wording of these attributes (potentially to ‘sexual orientation’, to ensure consistency with the provisions of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013), the primary concerns around protected attributes, and how they are drafted, are in respect of transgender and intersex individuals.

For example, protections for transgender people are based on the term ‘chosen gender’, which is defined under sub-section 5(5) of the Act as: “a person is a person of a chosen gender if –

  • the person identifies on a genuine basis as a member of the opposite sex by assuming characteristics of the opposite sex (whether by means of medical intervention, style of dressing or otherwise) or by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex…”

Based on my understanding of transgender activism, and through recent developments of anti-discrimination law within Australia, it is highly likely that using the term ‘chosen gender’, and then defining it in this way, is not best practice.

For example, the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 protections are instead based on ‘gender identity’, which is defined in section 4 of that Act as: “gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.”

The Commonwealth definition appears to be significantly more inclusive, especially because it does not use descriptors such as ‘opposite sex’ and therefore avoids strict gender binaries, allowing people who do not identify as either male or female to also be protected.

I suggest the SALRI consider recommending the South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 be amended to incorporate the term, and definition of, ‘gender identity’ from the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

In a similar way, it is possible that the drafters of subsection 5(5) of the South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 believed that they were including people with intersex variations, when they wrote: “a person is a person of a chosen gender if – …

  • the person, being of indeterminate sex, identifies on a genuine basis as a member of a particular sex by assuming characteristics of the particular sex (whether by means of medical intervention, style of dressing or otherwise) or by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the particular sex.”

However, once again based on my understanding of intersex activism, and on recent developments in anti-discrimination law (particularly at the Commonwealth level, and more recently in Tasmania), it is clear that this definition is not best practice – and is, in fact, inadequate to ensure protection for people on the basis of intersex status.

For this reason, the SALRI should consider recommending that South Australia adopt the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, which was the first anti-discrimination legislation in the world to include ‘intersex status’ as a stand-alone protected attribute.

As a result of those reforms, ‘intersex status’ is now defined in section 4 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 as: “intersex status means the status of having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are:

  • neither wholly female nor wholly male; or
  • a combination of female and male; or
  • neither female nor male.”

Adopting this definition would ensure a far larger proportion of people with intersex variations would have protection under South Australia’s anti-discrimination laws.

Obviously, as a cisgender gay man, I am not an expert on either of the grounds of gender identity or intersex status. That is why these issues have been framed as suggestions – and if this is something that the SALRI wishes to take up in more detail, it should do so in close collaboration with South Australian and/or national transgender and intersex advocacy organisations to ensure that whatever language is ultimately adopted is the best, and most inclusive, possible.

  1. Remove broad exceptions granted to religious organisations

The current exceptions which are offered to religious organisations in the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 are overly generous, and their scope should be significantly narrowed.

Section 50 of the Act provides:

Religious bodies

1. This Part does not render unlawful discrimination in relation to –

a. the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

b. the training or education of persons seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

ba. the administration of a body established for religious purposes in accordance with the precepts of that religion; or

c. any other practice of a body established for religious purposes that conforms with the precepts of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

While both subsections 50(1)(a) and (b) appear to be necessary to protect the genuine exercise of freedom of religion, subsection 50(1)(ba) would only be justified on this basis if it was limited to the operation of explicitly or overtly religious bodies (like churches) and should not apply to other institutions which may be operated by religions but which have a different primary purpose (for example, schools, hospitals, aged care services or other community services).

Subsection 50(1)(c) is also completely unjustifiable given it provides what amounts to essentially a ‘blank cheque’ to organisations that are operated by religious groups to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) South Australians, both in employment and in service delivery.

There should not be a general right to discriminate against LGBT people, across multiple areas of public life like education, health, aged care or community services, simply because of the religious beliefs of certain individuals or organisations. LGBT South Australians deserve the right to access services, and to apply for or undertake employment, in the public sphere without the threat of being discriminated against solely on the basis of who they are.

The Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, which specifically excluded religious exceptions from applying to LGBT people accessing aged care services operated by religious organisations, has successfully demonstrated that:

  1. It is possible to restrict these religious exceptions in law, and
  2. After two years of operation, there have been no practical problems in the application of such provisions.

Even more relevantly, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 has not granted explicit exceptions to protections on sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status to religious organisations – and this approach has also worked well over the past decade.

For example, under the Tasmanian legislation, religious organisations have traditionally only been allowed to discriminate in terms of:

  1. Employment based on religion (section 51)[1] or
  2. Participation in religious observance (section 52)[2].

I suggest that the SALRI consider the long-standing Tasmanian exceptions, which do not allow for general discrimination against LGBTI people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, but only on the grounds of religious belief or activity, as a ‘best practice’ guide to help reform the South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 and therefore improve the anti-discrimination protections which are offered to LGBTI South Australians.[3]

  1. Introduce anti-vilification protections for LGBTI South Australians

The final suggestion relates to the issue of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex vilification.

Specifically, it is to recommend the creation of anti-vilification laws, on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, which are equivalent to the race-based anti-vilification provisions of the South Australian Racial Vilification Act 1996[4].

To put it bluntly, there is no justification whatsoever to have anti-vilification laws which protect people from racist vilification, but to simultaneously not have anti-vilification laws which apply to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia are just as unacceptable, and, most importantly, just as harmful, as racism – with significant impacts on the mental health of young LGBTI people in particular. If, as a community, we have (or in this case, South Australia, has) resolved to outlaw racist vilification, then similar laws should also be used to outlaw homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic vilification.

Currently, four Australian jurisdictions (NSW, Queensland, the ACT and Tasmania) have anti-vilification laws which cover (at least some of) the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities.

However, given neither the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, nor South Australian law, have any vilification protections on these grounds, none of the LGBTI communities in South Australia have any legal protection from similar conduct.

This situation should change – and I suggest the SALRI recommend the creation of new anti-vilification laws which prohibit vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

The past 18 months have seen an extensive community conversation about race-based vilification laws at the Commonwealth level, and specifically whether section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 should be repealed, amended or retained.

The outcome of this debate appears to be relatively strong community support for the retention of section 18C. As such, I believe the SALRI should take advantage of this moment to recommend that another marginalised group within Australian society should be offered the same shield against conduct which is similarly destructive.

Thank you again for the opportunity to make a submission to the South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALRI) public consultation on removing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people from South Australian laws.

I look forward to the outcome of this consultation, and to the consequent improvements to South Australia’s laws – hopefully including the reforms to the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 recommended in this submission.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

[1] “Section 51: Employment based on religion.

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment if the participation of the person in the observance or practice of a particular religion is a genuine occupational qualification or requirement in relation to the employment.

(2) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment in an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices or a particular religion if the discrimination is in order to enable, or better enable, the educational institution to be conducted in accordance with those tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices.”

[2] “Section 52: Participation in religious observance.

A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to –

  • the ordination or appointment of a priest; or
  • the training and education of any person seeking ordination or appointment as a priest; or
  • the selection or appointment of a person to participate in any religious observance or practice; or
  • any other act that –
    • is carried out in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion; and
    • is necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of any person of that religion.”

[3] However, I do not believe there is any reason to include the recently added, unnecessary – and unnecessarily discriminatory – provisions included in section 51A of the Tasmanian Act which state: “Section 51A. Admission of person as student based on religion.

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to admission of that other person as a student to an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a person who is enrolled as a student at the educational institution referred to in that subsection.

(3) Subsection (1) does not permit discrimination on any grounds referred to in section 16 other than those specified in that subsection.

(4) A person may, on a ground specified in subsection (1), discriminate against another person in relation to the admission of the other person as a student to an educational institution, if the educational institution’s policy for the admission of students demonstrates that the criteria for admission relates to the religious belief or affiliation, or religious activity, of the other person, the other person’s parents or the other person’s grandparents.”

[4] Section 4 of the SA Racial Vilification Act provides: “Racial vilification. A person must not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of their race by –

  • threatening physical harm to the person, or members of the group, or to property of the person or members of the group; or
  • inciting others to threaten physical harm to the person, or members of the group, or to property of the person or members of the group.

Maximum penalty:

If the offender is a body corporate – $25 000.

If the offender is a natural person – $5 000, or imprisonment for 3 years, or both.”