Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, via a spokeswoman, said he would call on Commonwealth countries who still criminalise homosexuality to cease operating these outdated laws, often a hangover from British colonial rule.
Rudd is set to raise the issue with foreign ministers at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth this week.
This is especially momentous given the Australian Government has been dragging the chain when it comes to speaking out against cruel laws and attitudes directed at LGBTI people worldwide.
Incredibly, in 41 of 54 Commonwealth countries, gays and lesbians have the imminent threat of punishment, including whipping and jail time, hanging over their heads for the ‘crime’ of simply expressing their love.
Australian gay and lesbian couples need only look at their partners and ask what it might feel like if being together meant possible incarceration. Better still, ask any queer over the age of 50 and they might give you a bit of a clue.
At the 2009 CHOGM, Australia baulked at the chance to raise the issue with Commonwealth comrade Uganda over its unspeakably awful proposal for an anti-homosexuality bill designed to put gay Ugandans to their death.
Closer to home, Malaysia, also in the Commonwealth clan, still retains its colonial-era penal code with punishments of fines or sentences of up to 20 years prison.
Anti-sodomy laws have been used as a weapon against one of the country’s well known politicians, former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently on trial on sodomy charges. Ibrahim, who denies the current charges, served several years behind bars in the early part of the decade for a similar charge, which was later overturned.
Given our hand in creating this mess in the first place, it’s high time this wrong is righted.
It takes courage to raise these issues and it is encouraging to see Australia is finally taking a stand.
Former High Court judge Michael Kirby and his colleagues who form CHOGM’s Eminent Persons Group are to be commended for their considerable efforts in putting the issue on the agenda.
It’s easy to forget the considerable rights we enjoy in Australia even though there is still a relative short way to go.