LGBT history in Australia
Australia's early years
Early laws in Australia were based on then-current laws in Britain, which were inherited upon colonisation in 1788. Lesbianism was never illegal in Britain nor its colonies, including Australia. Sodomy laws, however, were part of Australian law, from 1788 through to 1994 under Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994. The punishment for "buggery" (sodomy) was reduced from execution to life in prison in 1899.
Throughout the transportation period there was a severe imbalance between the sexes, convict and free, and large numbers of convicts were kept in relative or complete isolation from the other sex. Ample evidence exists of the prevalence of homosexual behaviour; it is intermittent in the early years but more abundant after the term of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Some historians have suggested that anti-sodomy rhetoric was utilised effectvely against the practice of transportation, resulting in its eventual conclusion in the 1840s, although the emergence of gold mining also led to an increase in free migration and settlement.
In 1796 Francis Wilkinson became the first man to be charged with buggery (but acquitted). Class differences appear to have been involved in tolerance and indulgence of gay sex amongst convicts, with little attention paid by working-class convicts, but condemnation from middle-class or upwardly mobile transportees.
In 1822 an official inquiry into the sexual scandal that resulted from the movement of thirty female prisoners to the male prison farm at Emu Plains reported the rumour that the women had been placed there to prevent "unnatural crimes" on the part of the men.
In a secret dispatch of 1843 the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land stated that women in the Hobart female factory have "their Fancy-women, or lovers, to who they are attached with as much ardour as they would be to the opposite sex, and practice onanism to the greatest extent."
Select committees of the British Parliament inquiring into racism in 1832 and 1837 heard much evidence of the prevalence of scandalism. Major James Mudie testified that the prisoners called each other "sods" and that at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney boy prisoners went by names such as Kitty and Nancy.
In 1932, an Australian tabloid, The Arrow, described the growth of the "pervert population" of Brisbane, largely men aged 18 to 25, whose activities presented "a scandal of evil almost unprecedented". It called for police action to end suppress their gatherings. It reported clandestine weddings between gay men there: "In the last two weeks there have been two 'weddings'—ghastly, horrifying spectacles of painted men and primping lads united in a sacrilegious blasphemy that they call the 'bonds of matrimony'."
In 1951, the New South Wales Crimes Act was amended to ensure that "buggery" remained a criminal act "with or without the consent of the person", removing legal loophole of consent.
The gay rights movement
Although British influences on Australian political culture were still noticeable in the sixties, there does not seem to have been any local response to the Wolfenden Committee and its hesitant recommendation of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Some historians have attributed this to the 'convict stain' that tied erasure of white Australia's convict past to comparable amnesia about greater allowance for sex between men than would exist after consolidated settlement and colonisation began
Gay and lesbian rights movement groups were not organised in Australia until the late 1960s. The ACT Homosexual Law Reform Society, a humanist organisation based in Canberra which was formed in mid 1969; and an Australian arm of the Daughters of Bilitis, which formed in Melbourne in January 1970, are considered Australia's first gay rights organisations. However, it was a Sydney organisation, the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (C.A.M.P.), which was founded in Sydney in June 1970 that was to galvanise the early gay rights movement in Australia. John Ware and Christobell Poll announced the formation of an organisation called CAMP in an article on the front page of the magazine section of The Australian newspaper on 19 September 1980. Within about 12 months local CAMP groups had formed in each capital city and in many of the universities, soon there was this informal gay rights network around Australia. The first demonstration took place in October 1971 outside the Liberal Party headquarters in Sydney when a right-wing Christian fundamentalist stood against Tom Hughes for pre-selection. Tom Hughes was the federal Liberal Attorney-General and had spoken out in favour of limited homosexual law reform, so CAMP mounted a demonstration. In January 1971, the Melbourne-based gay rights organisation Society Five was formed as the local branch of the CAMP network.
In 1972, the Dunstan Labor government introduced a consenting adults in private type defence in South Australia. This defence was later introduced as a bill by Murray Hill, father of former Defence Minister Robert Hill, In 1975, South Australia became the first state or territory to legalise sexual conduct between males.
Other states and territories repealed their laws between 1976 and 1990. The exception was Tasmania, which retained its laws until the Federal Government and the United Nations Human Rights Committee forced their repeal in 1997.
An estimated 500 people marched down George Street to a rally in Martin Plaza in Sydney on 24 June 1978. Organisers said the march and rally were part of "international homosexual solidarity day" to demonstrate against sexual repression in Australia and other countries. The event recurred annually, becoming the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2008.
The last gay man was arrested on 14 December 1984 in Hobart, Tasmania, when he was found having sexual conduct with another man on the side of the road in a car. He was sentenced to eight months jail.
In 1991, after consistent pressure from Gay and Lesbian Immigration Task Force (GLITF), the Migration Amendment Act (No. 2) 1991 (Cth) was passed, amending the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) to allow Australian Citizens and Permanent Residents to sponsor their same-sex partners to Australia through a new Interdependency Visa.
In 1994, the Commonwealth passed the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994 – Section 4, legalising sexual activity between consenting adults (in private) throughout Australia. It wasn't until 1997 however when the law in Tasmania prohibiting gay male sexual conduct was repealed in Tasmania. However the ban on gay male sexual conduct was overturned in the courts in 1996 following Toonen v. Australia that gay male sexual conduct became formally legal in all Australian states and territories when the federal government passed the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994.
The John Howard years
Since the beginning of his term as Prime Minister in 1996, John Howard made his position clear on the gay rights issue. In January 1997, Howard refused to offer a message of support to Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras and said on the TV program A Current Affair that he would be "disappointed" if one of his children were to tell him they were gay or lesbian. In August 2001 when asked in a Triple J interview where he placed himself on a scale of acceptance of homosexuality, one end being total acceptance and the other total rejection, Howard replied, "Oh I'd place myself somewhere in the middle. I certainly don't think you should give the same status to homosexual liaisons as you give to marriage, I don't."
In July 1996 the Howard Government reduced the number of interdependency visas, making migration for same-sex couples more difficult.
Reported in 2003, the government was pushed into permitting passports with an 'X' sex marker by Alex MacFarlane. This was stated by the West Australian to be on the basis of a challenge by MacFarlane, using an "indeterminate" birth certificate issued by the State of Victoria. Australian government policy between 2003 and 2011 was to issue passports with an 'X' marker only to people who could "present a birth certificate that notes their sex as indeterminate"
The UN Human Rights Commission declared Australia's Federal Government in violation of equality and privacy rights under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights in September 2003 after denying a man a de facto spouse veteran's pension based on his 38-year same-sex relationship. The request from the UN that Australia take steps to treat same sex couples equally was ignored. When directly questioned, Attorney General Philip Ruddock said that the government is not bound by the ruling.
In March 2004, Howard condemned Australia's first laws which would allow gay couples to adopt children in the ACT as part of a new ACT Bill of Rights. Howard said, "I think the idea of the ACT having a bill of rights is ridiculous. I'm against gay adoption, just as I'm against gay marriage." The Commonwealth, however, did not overturn the legislation.
On 27 May 2004, approximately two months after Tony Blair's Labor Government in Britain proposed its Civil Partnership Act 2004, federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock introduced the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill to prevent any possible court rulings allowing same-sex marriages or civil unions. In August 2004, same-sex marriage was officially prohibited when the Marriage Act 1961 and the Family Law Act were amended in order to define marriage as a "union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life". Amendments were also made to prevent the recognition in Australia of marriages conducted in other countries between a man and another man or a woman and another woman.
In March 2006, after the ACT government announced plans to create civil unions within the territory, the federal government vowed to block it. Following the public outcry over Howard's move to kill the ACT bill, in April the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) began a six month inquiry to hear from Australians about the federal government's treatment of gays. The Howard Government banned its departments from making submissions to the inquiry into financial discrimination experienced by same-sex couples.
In May 2006, Attorney General Philip Ruddock blocked a gay Australian man from marrying in Europe. Ruddock refused to grant a gay man living in the Netherlands a 'Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage' document required by some European countries before marriage, to prove foreigners are in fact single. Under Ruddock's instructions, no such documents were to be released to gay and lesbians individuals intending to marry overseas. Following a request for the certificate the following statement was received:
Following the advice of the Australian Attorney-General's Department we herewith certify that Australian law does not allow the issue of a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage to persons wishing to enter into a same-sex marriage.—Australian Embassy, Netherlands on behalf of the Attourney-General's Office
In June, the ACT's civil union legislation was passed then disallowed by the Governor General. A second attempt to offer civil unions for same-sex couples in 2007 was again disallowed. The Governor-General only disallowed the ACT legislation after being advised by the Executive Cabinet, although under the Constitution, the Governor-General was not obliged to follow the advice of the Executive Cabinet. Plans were also made to introduce a federal bill preventing same-sex couples from adopting, but the idea was dropped after the 2007 elections.
Despite the reluctance of the federal government, individual states and territories were continuing to make inroads. Since 2001, Victoria has amended 60 Acts to include same-sex couples. In 2002, Western Australia removed all remaining legislative discrimination toward sexual orientation (including adoption) by adding the new definition of "de facto partner", and Queensland created a new, non-discriminatory definition of "de facto partner" within 61 pieces of legislation. In 2003, Tasmania became the first state to create a relationship registry for same sex couples, giving same-sex couples nearly equal rights to married couples, excluding adoption. In 2004, the Northern Territory removed legislative discrimination against same-sex couples in most areas of territory law, and the ACT began allowing same-sex couples to adopt. In 2005, the city of Sydney, in New South Wales, created a Relationship Declaration Program offering limited legal recognition for same-sex couples. In 2006, South Australia, the last state to recognise same-sex couples, amended 97 Acts, dispensing with the term "de facto" and categorising couples as "domestic partners". The city of Melbourne, in Victoria, provided a "Relationship Declaration Register" for all relationships and carers starting in 2007, which was followed in December with Victoria introducing a state-wide registry and amending 69 pieces of legislation to include couples who are in registered relationships.
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