AUSTRALIA has been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism regarding its marriage equality and asylum seeker policies during a periodic review of its human rights record by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In Geneva overnight, members of the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group called on Australia to catch up with other western countries on the issue of marriage equality.

The UPR is conducted every four years and according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, it “has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Ireland — which legislated marriage equality earlier this year through a successful referendum to change the definition of marriage in its constitution — urged Australia to change its marriage laws: “We encourage Australia to take steps towards equal recognition of same-sex marriage.”

[showads ad=MREC]In their review of the country’s human rights record, Iceland and The Netherlands also said Australia had fallen behind other western countries by failing to recognise marriage equality.

The Netherlands recommended Australia “revise the Marriage Act of 1961 in a way that ensures full equality with respect to the civil institution of marriage. As a strong advocate of marriage equality and equal rights for all, The Netherlands notes that Australia’s Marriage Act de facto discriminates against LGBTI people”.

Meanwhile, Germany recommended Australia adopt national legislation prohibiting the sterilisation of intersex adults and children without their consent, especially in regards to surgeries on infants and the requirement for invasive surgery before gender markers can be changed on birth certificates.

Nonetheless, at the same meeting Australia voluntarily committed to removing the exemption for state and territory laws that is currently part of the federal Sex Discrimination Act, the national anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBTI people.

The commitment will reportedly take effect from July 31 next year and it is expected to impact on areas such as adoption and parenting laws, birth certificates and body searches of trans and intersex people.

Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby secretary Corey Irlam, who co-ordinated the briefing and lobbying on LGBTI issues as part of the Australian NGO Coalition, praised the federal government’s commitment to tackling discrimination.

“The effectiveness of our national discrimination law has been undermined by a blanket exemption for all state and territory laws, and it’s fantastic to see the federal government draw a line in the sand that will encourage states to update their statute books and remove discrimination once and for all,” he said.

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