By Thomas Mowbray
It’s Mardi Gras. A time of colour, of pride, of celebration.
But it’s not just a big party.
As a friend reminded me, Mardi Gras celebrations also honour the work of queer activists, their past oppression, and how far we have come as a society.
‘[Just] remember what the old queens marched for…’ he posted on Facebook, ‘SO [that] this generation can walk down the street loud and PROUD!’
Australia has come a long way since homosexuality was punishable by death. We have anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQI community. We have legally-recognised civil unions for same-sex couples.
But we do not have equality.
Most obviously, same-sex marriage is not legal in Australia, despite being supported by the vast majority of Australians.
Equality is not just about marriage however.
We all know the reasons for and against marriage equality, and are aware of the implications it has for the LGBTQI community. The social spotlight is firmly on this issue, and it receives the attention it deserves.
There are other legal and regulatory issues however, that people do not know about. That discriminate against the LGBTQI community. That should be in the social spotlight.
Take, for example, the fact that in Queensland, the age of consent for anal sex is 18, while the age of vaginal sex is 16.
The fact that the Australian Red Cross refuses blood donations from men who have slept with another man in the last twelve months, regardless of whether protection was used.
The fact that same-sex couples cannot adopt children in Queensland, South Australia, or the Northern Territory, despite record low adoption rates. And further, the fact that these states also prohibit same-sex couples acting as foster parents.
These laws and regulations are discriminatory and homophobic. They deserve attention and discussion, public pressure and outrage.
Most frightening of our discriminatory laws however, is the ‘gay panic’ defence, available in Queensland and South Australia.
The ‘gay panic’ defence, known officially as the ‘homosexual advance defence’ (HAD) can be used by defendants in murder trials to downgrade their offence to manslaughter.
Essentially, the HAD justifies itself by claiming that the defendant finds a homosexual advance so terrifying, so offensive, that they temporarily lose control and exact extreme violence upon the ‘perpetrator’.
Let’s be clear. This isn’t a defence against aggressive or violent sexual advances. It is a defence against casual homosexual advances. It defends people, who are so offended by someone’s non-aggressive advance, they are partially excused for killing the advancing person.
The reasoning behind this defence is obscene. It suggests that those in the queer community do not deserve the same legal protection as others. It suggests that the killing of a LGBTQI person is somewhat excused because they made a non-violent advance on someone. It suggests that LGBTQI people are somewhat to blame for their own murder.
In Green v the Queen (1997), former High Court Justice, and proud gay man, Michael Kirby, noted that the law would not ‘diminish a murderous attack on a Jew… or a woman’, simply because the offender was anti-Semitic or misogynistic. Why then, should it diminish responsibility for a homophobic murder?
It should not. It is for this reason that all other states and territories have cast this defence aside.
The ‘gay panic’ defence is a law of a bygone era. It is an unfortunate relic of institutionalised homophobic. It does not belong in the 21st Century, and it does not belong in Australia.
So this Mardi Gras, amid the joyous celebration of how far we’ve come as a society, remember that the road to equality is not over.
Remember, that even after the plebiscite, when the first grooms and wives are completing their vows, equality has not been reached.
The ‘old queens’ marched so this generation could parade. So this year, parade so the next generation can be married, and adopt children. Can make young love, and donate blood.
Parade so they can live without fear of murder.
This year, parade for equality. Not just for marriage equality.