Gay Man Loses Court Battle Over Next-Of-Kin Recognition
A gay man in Tasmania lost the court battle that he had waged after he was denied recognition as next-of-kin when his partner died six years ago.
Hobart resident Ben Jago had appealed in the Supreme Court of Tasmania to take away the immunity granted to the Tasmanian Coroner’s Office from any action under the state’s anti-discrimination law. Ben had been denied senior next of kin recognition by the Coroner after his partner Nathan Lunson died by sucide in 2015.
Justice Helen Wood ruled that the Coroner is immune from complaints under the anti-discrimination law. The ruling means that Jago is effectively barred from seeking redressal for the Coroner’s action.
In a statement, Ben said that he will continue the fight, and will explore ways to get the law overturned politically.
“It was legally wrong and deeply unjust for the Coroner to deny me the right to be Nathan’s senior next-of-kin. I was unable to see his body, initially barred from his funeral, and given no say over his place of rest,” Ben said in the statement.
Ben said that he had no intention of stopping his fight and would explore every avenue to ensure the injustice meted out to him is not repeated.
Will Keep Fighting To Overturn Unjust Law
“Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, I won’t stop until I can be absolutely certain this doesn’t happen again. I will seek an urgent meeting with the State Government seeking an apology, restitution for the trauma I have endured and legislative reform. I want to make sure the Coroner never again puts anyone through what I went through,” Ben said.
In an interview with Star Observer last month Ben had said that the past six years had been difficult with “not being able to say goodbye to my partner, not being able to give him the burial, and the funeral that he wanted.”
“The case has implications not only for my own situation but also for other people who are in a de-facto relationship. (The outcome of the case would) make a significant difference because if the same thing happened to them, they’d be in a limbo, they’d be in my situation,” Ben had said.
An Appeal Against Order Would Be Expensive
Ben’ solicitor Ben Jago’s solicitor, Benedict Bartl said they have decided to halt the legal fight.
“Ben has decided not to lodge an appeal against the ruling by Justice Wood because the risk of losing such an appeal and incurring costs is too great,” said Barti.
“We will support Ben’s request to the Premier for an apology and restitution, as well as reform of the Coroner’s Act so there is a clear, non-discriminatory procedure for determining senior next-of-kin,” added Barti.
LGBTQI advocacy group Equality Tasmania has asked the state government and Premier Peter Gutwein to intervene so that justice can be done.
Equality Tasmania Asks Premier To Intervene
“I’m appalled by the Supreme Court decision because it effectively means the Coroner can ignore both the state Relationships Act, that says same-sex partners have equal rights, and the state Anti-Discrimination Act, which says LGBTIQ people should not face disadvantageous treatment,” said Equality Tasmania spokesperson, Rodney Croome
“We want Mr Gutwein to follow that precedent and ensure justice for Ben Jago,” added Croome.
Hobart resident Ben and Nathan from Ulverstone had first met on Facebook in 2009. They moved in together after a few months and lived together for around six years. They had plans to get married in New Zealand, which had legalised same sex marriages in 2013. Australia would legalise same sex marriages only after a National vote in 2017.
Ben and Nathan Were In De-facto Relationship
In January 2015, Nathan died by suicide and the last time Ben saw him was when the police took away his body. As the couple had not registered their relationship, the coroner’s office failed to recognise Ben as the next of kin.
“This was despite the fact they were in a de-facto-style “significant relationship” under Tasmanian law which gave them equal next-of-kin rights. This failure of the Coroner’s Office to grasp that same-sex couples have equal rights had occured previously. In that case the bereaved partner reached a conciliated resolution in the Anti-Discrimiantion Commission. The resolution was that the Coroner’s Office would conduct staff training in LGBTIQ+ issues including the law. Clearly, that didn’t work,” solicitor Bartl had said in an email
If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.
For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14
For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.