As a nation, Australia maintains appalling laws
against gay and lesbian people. We live under a regime of apartheid.
It is an apartheid not based on the colour of our skin, but on the
colour of our sexuality. Homophobia is nothing less than sexual
racism. But homosexuality is not a behaviour to be regulated. It
is an identity to be respected. We are people, first and foremost.
We work, we have lives, we love and have relationships. We are family.
Yet, despite being citizens, voters and taxpayers, lesbian and
gay Australians do not have the same rights – or in many cases
have no rights – to those things in life that heterosexual
people take for granted. With the passing of legislation into law
banning same sex marriages gay and lesbian couples can be denied
access to a hospital to visit their partner if he or she is sick
or injured – because they are not considered next of kin.
If they should die, their partner has no legal claim to their superannuation
death benefit, despite the fact that they have nominated them as
their beneficiary. Gay or lesbian couples cannot claim their partner
as a dependant or split their incomes for taxation purposes and,
if they should separate, there is no legal mechanism to ensure fair
and reasonable property settlement – they are denied access
to the Family Court.
These complications are even more pronounced for the many gay and
lesbian families raising children. It may come as a surprise to
the government of Australia that many gay men do in fact have children
and that about 30 per cent of lesbian couples either have or plan
to have children. Despite this, some people still promote arguments
and laws in opposition to what is the reality of many people’s
lives. But the fact remains that, no matter how many obstacles you
place in front of women trying to have children, those women who
really want children will have children, as is their right. Heterosexual
people do not have a monopoly on good child rearing practices. It
is those people who really want children who make the best parents.
Gay and lesbian people fighting for compensation and superannuation
death benefits find that the spirit of those acts cannot be applied
to same sex relationships. And so it is with unfair stamp duty payments
and other taxation imposts, property settlement, family payments
and spousal recognition within the defence forces and Public Service.
Gay and lesbian people seeking to be regarded as next of kin for
hospital visits or funeral arrangements can find that the spirit
of those acts cannot be applied to them, and the immigration process
for same sex couples applies differently and to our disadvantage.
The spirit does not apply here either. No, the spirit of Commonwealth
legislation towards same sex relationships is decidedly mean spirited.
We are excluded.
The legal recognition of same sex relationships is a human rights
priority that must be addressed by the Commonwealth of Australia,
it is for this reason and this reason alone that gay and lesbian
activists sailed to Australia’s overseas external territory
of the Coral Sea Islands and declared the territory a independent
sovereign gay and lesbian Kingdom.
In his victory speech in 1998, Prime Minister Howard spoke of the
need for a more caring and tolerant Australia. At their national
conference in Hobart a few years ago, the Australian Labor Party
unanimously passed a motion recognising the need for equality and
justice for gay men and lesbians. If these parties are serious about
this, then now is the time for them to act.
Discrimination against gay and lesbian people is as morally repugnant
as racism or anti-Semitism. As a nation Australia has fallen behind
comparable jurisdictions, such as New Zealand, Canada and South
Africa, in terms of protecting the human rights of homosexual people.
For as long as governments condone this apartheid, they are creating
the social and political environment that leads to harassment and
violence towards gay and lesbian people.
While parliaments continue to deny our relationships, deem us to
be criminals, and render us to be second-class citizens without
legal protections, then some people will take this as their cue
to continue to treat us badly. Australian research shows that almost
half of all gay and lesbian people report some form of discrimination
or harassment at work, including sackings. Roughly 30 per cent of
lesbian and gay people experience harassment at school. And, worst
of all, 70 per cent of gay and lesbian people report being verbally
abused, threatened or bashed in a public place.
The government of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom wish to take a moment
now to briefly tell the story of a young man called Matthew Shepherd.
Matthew was a slightly built 21-year-old student in Wyoming in the
United States. About a year ago he was lured from a campus bar by
two men. They drove him to a remote area outside the town of Laramie,
where they viciously beat him. As he lay there bleeding, begging
for his life, he was bound to a fence and left in near freezing
temperatures to die. He had been beaten so badly that his limp body,
when found, was at first thought to be a scarecrow. His attackers
had stolen his shoes and robbed his apartment. After being struck
in the head 18 times with the butt of a hand gun, he remained in
a coma for five days without regaining consciousness, before dying.
Matthew Shepherd was murdered because he was gay.
Before anyone in Australia is tempted to think that this could
only happen in America, the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom reminds the
government of Australia that no fewer than 30 men have been bashed
to death in Australia in the past couple of years simply because
they were gay or presumed to be so. This violence does not occur
in a vacuum, it is not spontaneous.
Hatred of this kind takes years to mature within societies. It
is nurtured through a culture of invisibility and fear towards gay
and lesbian people and the neglect and indifference of parliaments.
Each time a piece of legislation comes before the parliament and
touches on human rights and human relationships but excludes gay
and lesbian people and denies our relationships, it perpetuates
this culture of invisibility. Each time a public figure or religious
speaker denounces our existence or seeks to justify our differential
treatment, it perpetuates this culture of fear.
The Gay and Lesbian Kingdom stands here today, on the dawn of this
new century, as an independent sovereign gay nation, its government
represents the last generation of gay and lesbian people who will
tolerate the injustices of the past being carried into the future.
To the thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens
who know the pain of abuse and discrimination and to those who have
been unjustly arrested and jailed, the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom pledges
it support and the support of its government.
Throughout our history many of the kingdoms founding fathers and
mothers were human rights activist, and were inspired by the dedication
and tenacity of small groups of people fighting for change against
overwhelming odds. These groups have very few resources, other than
a passion for justice and a strong desire for change. At times these
groups face opposition so fierce it can lead to violence, as we
have seen recently in Australia, and it is deeply personal. Yet
it is these tiny community groups which change community attitudes,
which in turn change laws.
The Gay and Lesbian Kingdom salutes the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian
Rights Group which, through a 10-year campaign, brought about the
repeal of offensive anti–gay laws in that state, a state which
now leads the world in sexuality education programs, and leads the
nation with antidiscrimination laws. And we offer our respects to
Rodney Croome and Nick Toonan, the public faces of that movement.
Their legacy is a United Nations resolution reaffirming the human
rights of all gay and lesbian citizens, a resolution which has shone
a light into some of the darkest corners of the world and which
can now be built on. We also salute the Gay and Lesbian Equality
group which, after 11 years of fighting, is on the brink of achieving
change. Its legacy is the shift in community attitudes it has brought
about though reasoned arguments, truth and persistence.
Let us hope that as a nation Australia enters this millennium
a society not simply of greater tolerance but of greater acceptance.
In June 2004 the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill Schedule
1 – Amendment of the marriage act 1969 was presented in the
Australian parliament and passed into law. This legislation discriminated
against same sex couples, same sex families and banned those lesbian
and gay men who legally married overseas from accessing the Australian
Courts to have their relationships recognised. The gay community
sort legal advice, however, it soon became apparent that the community
needed something more, something vitally different as much of the
homophobic legislation introduced into parliament over the past
10 years that has seen the winding back of gay rights has been because
of the right wing coalition of Christian lobby groups, here was
a unique combination of circumstances and events.
In the past 10 years the Australian government has repeatedly attacked
the gay community and has confirmed its status as one of the most
homophobic governments in the western world. The Australian government
has cut immigration for same sex partners, tried to ban IVF treatment
to lesbians, falsely accused the openly gay High Court Chief Justice
Michael Kirby of being a paedophile and stood silently by when this
proved false, attacked gay families on TV, threatened to overturn
the State same sex couple adoption laws, and declared marriage as
being about the survival of the species.
1994: Gay activists take Australia to the United
Nations and win there case that forces the government to introduce
the Commonwealth Human Rights Sexual Conduct Bill that gives gay
people in states like Tasmania the right to have sex in their own
1996: The Australian government slashes the number
of “Interdependency visas”, making migration for same
sex couples far more difficult.
1997: In response to the discrimination claim
of a lesbian, the Australian government threatens to remove Medicare
rebates for lesbians who access fertility services. In response
to the case the Attorney General of Australia first threatens to
amend the sex discrimination act of 1984 to exclude lesbians from
fertility services and from adoption.
1998: The Australian government rejects a bill
to extend superannuation to same sex couples
1999: The Australian government again rejects
the same sex bill.
2000: The Australian Senate Select Committee
examines the rejected superannuation bill and releases its report.
The committee receives more than 1200 submissions in favour of the
bill and five opposing it. The government writes a minority report
and again opposes the bill. In response to a court ruling that it
is unlawful to exclude lesbians from fertility services, the government
tries to amend the sex discrimination act to exclude lesbians from
anti-discrimination protection in this area.
2001: Widows of prisoners of war are awarded
$12,000 dollars but the government claims that the 25 gay partners
of the POWS will not be eligible because the government does not
recognise same sex relationships. Again a bill is introduced into
parliament to extend superannuation benefits to same sex couples
and again the government rejects it. Asked on national radio JJJ
the Prime Minister stated he didn’t think homosexuals should
have the same status as heterosexuals.
2002: The government applies to have a court
decision granting legal marriage status to a transsexual man and
his wife reversed. The government accuse openly gay High Court Judge
Justice Michael Kirby of paedophilia and forces the judge to stand
down. The governments “evidence” is discredited by the
Senate and whilst the Judge is reinstated the government refuses
to apologise. Later in the week the Prime Minister remarks he is
not tolerant of gay people. With the approval and support of the
Catholic Bishops the government again tries to exclude lesbians
from fertility services by amending the sex discrimination act.
The government states publicly that it is opposed to same sex marriage
and same sex parents. The government refuses the referral of powers
from all states which would allow the Family Court to hear property
disputes of same sex couples.
2003: the Prime Minister tells a radio station
he opposes changing the law to grant equal status to same sex couples
but says its “not an expression of discrimination”.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission declares the Australia
government in violation of equality and privacy rights under the
International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights after denying
a man a de facto spouse veterans pension based on his 38 year same
sex relationship. The request from the UN that Australia take steps
to treat same sex couples equally is ignored and when directly questioned
the government says it is not bound by the ruling.
2004: The government condemns state adoption
laws that allow same sex couples to adopt and considers using little
used Commonwealth laws to override the state laws. The Prime Minister
goes on record to say he is against gay adoption like he is against
gay marriage. The government condemns the government owned television
station ABC for running “a gay political agenda’ when
it featured a lesbian couple on Play School. The Deputy Prime Minister
says publicly that homosexuals should accept their choice of lifestyle
means other life options are closed to them. The government opposers
a private members bill that includes sweeping reforms for gay and
lesbian rights. The government introducers its own bill, that prevents
gay and lesbian couples from marring and adopting and also prevents
same sex couples who are legally married overseas from accessing
the nations courts. The government passes this bill into law.
June 2004: Gay activists leave the Australian
mainland and sail to Australia’s nearby uninhabited external
territory of the Coral Sea Islands and declare them an Independent
Gay and Lesbian Kingdom and appeal to the United Nations and the
International Court of Justice for recognition and support on the
grounds that under international law and the United Nations Charter
of which Australia is a signatory the UN rules that “an oppressed
people who occupy an external overseas territory have the right
to self determination and self government.”
2005: Australia removes Gay and Lesbian rights
from its Human Rights Charter.