People & Ideas

Jun 26, 2012

Newman v gays: where else but Queensland?

Recent changes to Queensland laws represent once of the most significant rollbacks of gay and lesbian rights by a government in the Western world.

There's something that’s been missing from the commentary regarding the Queensland government's changes to civil union and surrogacy rights for same-s-x couples. It's that this is the most significant rollback of gay and lesbian rights by a government in the Western world, ever. Sound like an exaggeration? It’s not. While rights (such as marriage) have often been denied in various locations in the US and Europe, rarely have we seen the eradication of standing minority rights and protections. California’s Proposition 8 ballot measure to revoke the right of gay couples to marry is the closest equivalent to what's currently unfolding in Queensland. What we’re seeing in the Sunshine State is unprecedented; a significant, successive series of law reforms aimed solely at removing rights from a minority and prioritised by a government before it has even reached 100 days in power. This world record is unenviable -- whether you're gay or straight. It was a three-pronged plan starting with the removal of the most significant voice for LGBT Queenslanders, the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities. The state’s only health organisation for gays had nearly $2.6 million in funding stripped by Health Minister Lawrence Springborg in May for focusing too much on "political issues". Their only significant support body removed, it was on to civil unions, which saw Premier Campbell Newman stumble through half-truths about "compromise" with the state’s religious groups. Already beholden to the far Right of the party room, the so-called compromise of simply removing state-sanctioned ceremonies quickly became a gutting of the entire Civil Partnerships Act and the introduction of a relationship register instead. There were no press conferences this time, no explanations about why Newman had initially sought to calm fears about a rollback and tout his credentials as a master social policy negotiator. Civil unions simply ceased to exist in the early hours of Friday, June 22. While Newman was at pains to try to disguise the fact that the LGBT community was under attack from the new government, there were no such signs of remorse or embarrassment from Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie. In fact, Bleijie couldn’t wait to reveal that this was merely the beginning of what he had in store for gay and lesbian couples. The night changes to civil unions were pushed through, he unexpectedly announced in Parliament that next on the list for reform was Queensland’s surrogacy laws -- changed in 2010 to allow same-s-x couples and singles the right to access altruistic (non-commercial) surrogacy. Newman said as late as March that surrogacy laws were not going to be touched. Bleijie later informed us on Friday that the Premier just hadn’t been "briefed" on the LNP’s urgent plan to stop same-s-x surrogacy. If you thought Bleijie was barely able to hold back his excitement, the Australian Christian Lobby went further. ACL chief of staff Lyle Shelton and Queensland director Wendy Francis welcomed the news that gays would be stopped from "acquiring babies". Despite falling over themselves with excitement, you’d be wrong in thinking Christian groups such as ACL have a lot of lobbying power up here -- they hadn’t really mentioned surrogacy at all. The truth is the LNP, for all intents and purposes, are the Christian lobby. One of the first couples to register their civil union in Queensland was Michael O’Brien and Anthony Gillespie. The couple are no strangers to having their relationship politicised. They featured in the controversial Rip N Roll safe s-x advertising campaign -- created by the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities -- that caused all sorts of grief for outdoor advertising companies in the state following another ACL outcry last year. Understandably, the couple aren’t overjoyed at the fact that their relationship is once again the subject of debate over its worth in Queensland. "Changing the name [of civil unions] has made it akin to registering pets, but to be honest I’m almost more disappointed at how underhanded it was," O’Brien said. "It wasn't mentioned in the premier’s press conference, it was just 'oh, by the way we’re changing the name from civil unions'. We were completely lied to." O'Brien, who has a son with his partner, says he's furious he will also have the option for future surrogacy options denied to him. "It’s gut wrenching to think the government completely undervalues our ability to be parents and to be decent human beings," he said. "It wasn't put up for discussion. It was simply just another move to legislate against the LGBT community. "You have a whole lot of family situations that break down and they’re basically saying that homos-xuals are the ones that are not going to be able to do it right. Well, no one else seems to be able to do it right, so why can’t we have a shot?" There’s a wider issue here too, beyond repealing legal rights -- significant as that may be. It's the message that these reforms and their urgency send to the state’s LGBT population. How else is your average gay Queenslander to see this remarkable attack on their rights other than that their government is so hostile towards them that it would preference these social changes before an ailing economy and desperately needed infrastructure? It’s undoubtedly damaging to the mental health of local gay men and women, already worn down by the increased hostility that has spawned from the federal marriage debate. Spread too thin over numerous battlegrounds without a champion to voice their concerns nationally, the local LGBT community is nearing lethargy. After the March election, they’ve been left with a state speaker who once advocated "ex-gay" therapy on the floor of Parliament, an ambivalent Premier unable to control the anti-gay animus of his massive majority, and a state opposition too small to be competent at sounding the alarm over just how significant and frightening these rights rollbacks are.

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83 thoughts on “Newman v gays: where else but Queensland?

  1. Powerfox junior

    Isn’t ignorance and hatred disguised as fundamentalist Christianity a “lifestyle choice”? Yes, some of us are “worn down” and fed up, but not by the debate per se. Its the quality of the debate and the sheer narrow-minded nastiness that is wearing and sad. Civilised society? Hardly.

  2. Modus Ponens

    Ah single house parliaments, an elected dictatorship masquerading as democracy.

  3. j.oneill

    What has just happened in Queensland and what is yet to come highlights two fundamental flaws in our political system. The first is a voting system that allows such a massively one-sided result in the Parliament when the winning party mustered barely 50% of the vote yet got 80% of the seats. We now have an opposition too small to provide people for the committee system, one of the fundamental parts of parliamentary democracy. Newman and his antidemocratic colleagues promptly decided that they didn’t need committee scrutiny of their legislation because they “had a mandate”. This not only displays a shocking ignorance of the meaning ofparliamentary democracy, it also betrays a fundamental arrogance of power.

    The second flaw the repealing of gay rights exposes is the lack of a Bill or Charter of Human Rights along the NZ or Canadian models that would give aggrieved persons a legal basis to challenge legislation which so fundamentally alters the rights of a specific group or groups in a negative way.

    Anti Bill of Rights persons have been conspicuously silent on the Queensland government’s full frontal assault on basic human rights. We are marching backwards to the worst aspects of the Bjelke Petersen and before era and nobody seems to give a damn. What is wrong with this country?

  4. Jack Phat


    This comment was vulgar and inappropriate and has subsequently been removed. Please exercise some maturity when engaging in discussion with other people.

    If you don’t have anything intelligent to add to the discussion, here’s a thought: don’t add anything. And if you’re in doubt, consult our moderation guidelines.

  5. Matt Hardin

    No Jack, you are wrong. I am straight but I think that gay people are normal. I am sure that there are other straight people who think so to.

    I am also surprised your offensive rant, devoid of any argument, logic or grammar, made it past the moderator.

  6. rachel612

    Where’s the moderator? In a fair average world Jack Phat’s little outburst would pass for hate speech.

  7. Modus Ponens

    Queenslanders think they are normal. Point proven.

  8. Iain Hall

    Lets be real here about the changes to Civil Unions in Queensland, the only reason that Labor sponsored them at all was as an attempt to distract the public form their woeful performance in government, it failed to do that. Labor were utterly defeated and rightly so. Newman went to the electorate promising to abolish civil unions altogether and he subsequently pulled back from that undertaking to instead just remove the parts of the legislation that mimicked marriage. Many of us see that as a reasonable compromise.

    As for surrogacy well I have my doubts about it for anyone if it ends up alienating any child produced form at least one of their biological parents.

    If you are Gay in Queensland there is absolutely nothing stopping you living an loving entirely as you please which as far better than in most parts of the world world.

  9. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Iain Hall, just because the Bligh ALP government was politically and morally bankrupt doesn’t mean that civil unions, gay marriage or the surrogacy laws were without merit. When you say “Many of us….”, do you mean Queenslanders, homophobes, ill-informed know-alls or just regular suburban LNP voters? Do you see every moral and ethical outcome as a “reasonable compromise” – given the circumstances? Frankly Iain, how do you know what it is like to be “Gay in Queensland”?

  10. Flynn Thompson

    God there’s a nasty element to Queensland society that just won’t go away. So sick of these people and their prejudices.

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