Tasmanian man Ben Jago, who lost his fiancé in 2015, is crowdfunding to raise the money to fight the Tasmanian government over a next-of-kin same-sex discrimination claim.
The Tasmanian Coroner refused to recognise Jago as his fiancé Nathan Lunson’s next-of-kin, despite being a de facto couple for five years and living in a jointly-owned house.
Because the Coroner refused to recognise Jago as his fiancé’s legal next-of-kin, all arrangements fell to Lunson’s estranged mother.
He was not permitted to see Lunson’s body again, and had to negotiate to attend the funeral – where he was only allowed to sit at the back, was not mentioned as Lunson’s partner, and wasn’t allowed to speak about his partner of five years.
In 2016, Jago won the right to take his case to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, with the commissioner finding that he has an arguable case of discrimination against the Coroner’s Office and Tasmania Police.
But the case has been stuck in limbo ever since, with the registrar of the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, Andrew Cooper, telling the ABC, “Due to the complexities of the issues raised it is taking some time for the decision, and the reasons for that decision, to be finalised.”
The Tasmanian government has now made the astonishing decision to go to court to prevent the case from being heard, claiming that the Coroner’s Office is exempt from anti-discrimination law.
Under Tasmanian law, legal cases cannot be brought against the Coroner “unless it was done in bad faith”.
Jago is looking to raise $20,000 to cover legal costs should the case be unsuccessful. Should he win, he plans to donate the money to LGBTI causes.
“All I want is to be allowed to make my case that I suffered discrimination, and to do my best to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” he said.
Jago has enlisted barrister Ron Merkel QC, who helped fight the postal survey in court, as well as Hobart Community Legal Service lawyer Ben Bartl, who is providing Jago with free advice, with the support of longtime equality advocate Rodney Croome.
Bartl said last year that the Coroner’s Office checked to see if Jago and Lunson were on the Tasmanian relationships register, which they were not – but failed to investigate other criteria to determine if they were living in a ‘significant relationship’.
In 2016, Jago received a letter from the Magistrates Court of Tasmania acknowledging that he and his fiancé were living in a significant relationship at the time of Lunson’s death.
“It’s great we have marriage equality, but there is still discrimination against same-sex couples that must be challenged”, said Jago.
“I hope people right around Australia and the world will join me in challenging the Tasmanian Government’s refusal to take responsibility for the harm its officials have caused.”
You can donate to Jago’s crowdfunding appeal at his GoFundMe page: www.gofundme.com/ft9df