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.
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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.