Gay, lesbian activists confront church


By Tom Flanagan

HOBART — Churchgoers leaving St Mary's Cathedral on June 16 were confronted by a banner declaring "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone".

Gay and lesbian rights activists handed out stones and leaflets protesting against the position of the Catholic Church on gay law reform. Singled out for particular attention was Catholic Archbishop D'Arcy, who has been lobbying parliamentarians in Tasmania's conservative upper house to hold firm against strong pressure to reform Tasmania's archaic anti-gay laws.

The leaflet noted that Catholic bishops elsewhere have supported the removal of discrimination against homosexuals. It pointed out the hypocrisy of supporting the criminalisation of gay sex because it is against Catholic doctrine while not calling for the criminalisation of divorce and contraception.

It also argued that it is not the proper role of the legal system to force Catholic "morality" on the whole of society.

The action was part of the campaign by the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group for law reform and an end to discrimination and the homophobia that is rampant in the state.

Gay activist Nick Toonen explained that the protest was intended to highlight not only the Catholic Church's support for Tasmania's anti-gay laws but also the damaging effects of these laws.

Criminalisation, and the social attitudes it helps support, by alienating and degrading gay men, also puts them at greater risk of HIV infection and AIDS. It makes them less inclined to identify themselves as homosexual and therefore as belonging to a high risk group and less likely to come forward for information and advice.

It is by no means certain that the Legislative Council will support the gay law reform measures included in the HIV/AIDS Prevention bill that is likely to be tabled this week.

The inclusion of gay law reform within the HIV legislation, rather than addressing it directly as a social justice measure in its own right, is an act of moral cowardice on the part of the government. (The ALP was pressured into action by a Gay Law Reform bill put up by the Green Independents late last year, which it was able to ignore by inclusion of law reform measures in the HIV bill).

Failure by the upper house to pass the law reform aspects of the

bill would leave Tasmania as the only state where sex between consenting adult males is still a criminal offence.