Priest campaigns against 'gay panic' defence
A CATHOLIC priest in the Australian state of Queensland has gathered nearly 200,000 signatures in his campaign to close a legal loophole that allows the use of a “gay panic” defence.
Under Queensland’s provocation law, defendants can argue they found an alleged non-violent homosexual or heterosexual advance so offensive and frightening that they lost control and violently lashed out. The law can be used as a partial defence for murder or assault.
Fr Paul Kelly has been fighting to close the loophole since a man was beaten to death four years ago in the grounds of his church in the town of Maryborough.
A recent decision by Queensland’s government to not proceed with a planned tightening of the loophole has prompted Fr Kelly to redouble his efforts.
As of last night, his online petition to change the law had gathered more than 190,000 signatures, including that of actor Stephen Fry.
Fr Kelly told ABC radio the number of people signing the petition has increased sharply since the government’s decision.
“Within a couple of days it has jumped tens of thousands of signatures. It’s extraordinary,” he said.
“What it says is that a broad sector of the local and world community sees that a law that even unintentionally has a negative effect on one particular group is not allowed. And whatever their beliefs, whatever their religion, they won’t let that get in the way of protecting peoples’ basic rights to safety.”
Fr Kelly, who studied law in university, has campaigned against the law since a man called Wayne Ruks was killed in the grounds of his church by two men.
The men claimed in court that Mr Ruks had made an unwanted sexual advance.
“His mother, during the trial, said it was a load of rubbish. She said her son was not gay, that he had a 10-year relationship,” Fr Kelly said.
“She viewed footage of the CCTV video of the incident, and so did I, and the victim came nowhere near the attackers, and did not touch them.”
Fr Kelly says though the court rejected the provocation claim and the offenders were convicted of manslaughter, it should never have been considered.
“The jury was aware of that explanation, the judge took it in the mix of the considerations of that trial,” he said.
“People say the case didn’t turn on that in the end but that’s just wordplay. If it didn’t turn on that, why allow it to be brought up at all?”
The previous state Labour government partly changed the law and planned to amend it further but lost power in March. The incumbent Liberal National Party government has scrapped the proposed changes.
The provocation defence has been abolished in the states of Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania but Fr Kelly is not confident the support his campaign has garnered will change the Queensland government’s mind.
“I fear that if it was two billion [signatures] it wouldn’t change this present government. I hope I’m wrong,” he said.