Gay and lesbian rights advocates have mourned the death of former NSW Attorney General Jeffrey Shaw, a man with a reformist agenda dedicated to the rights of same-sex couples.
Shaw died yesterday morning, aged 60, from pneumonia complications.
Appointed attorney general in 1995, he is remembered as an activist committed to pushing through a raft of legislative changes with a human rights bent.
To the GLBT community he will be remembered for the first steps towards same-sex relationship recognition, and protections for transgender people.
“He had an extraordinary commitment to social justice, something you hope for in an attorney general but don’t often see,” former NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby convenor Stevie Clayton said.
In 1996 Shaw widened the scope of anti-discrimination legislation to include transgender people and made changes to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act to allow trans people to change their names on birth certificates.
In 1999 he introduced the Property (Relationships) Legislation Amendment Act to provide same-sex couples de facto status, property rights and the power to be involved in health decisions should their partner become ill.
“Given the conservative political climate of the time it was groundbreaking,” current lobby policy coordinator Sen Raj said.
“There were very few countries at the time — and virtually none outside Scandinavia — which had recognition for same-sex couples.
“In a legislative sense, providing same-sex couples de facto recognition meant they had access to property division after the breakdown of a relationship.
“It also entrenched particular legal rights and responsibilities that brought a practical and symbolic change to the way people saw their relationships.”
Clayton said the reform process started as early as 1992.
“We now have generations of younger people growing up in a context of rights. They can assume that they have rights, that do exist and are there,” she said.
“They come into this world knowing they have these rights, so they won’t have the fear that some of us grew up with.”
Pride History Group president Dianne Minnis recalled the introduction of the laws as “significant”.
“It was the first broad recognition of same-sex couples to ever happen in Australia that had a real build-up effect on people’s self-esteem, to see their relationships really recognised under the law,” she said.
NSW parliamentarians marked Shaw’s death yesterday with a condolence motion.
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who also campaigned to see same-sex couples recognised under the law in the ’90s added her condolences.
“As attorney general he was a significant reformer, protecting and advancing human rights in NSW, particularly the rights of lesbians, gay men and people of transgender,” she said.
Tributes: Post your tributes to Jeff Shaw under this story at www.starobserver.com.au