Last Tuesday, at this Parliament’s eleventh hour, amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act (1984) granting anti-discrimination protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex finally became law, after 18 years of advocacy. To our many partners in this reform, thank you for your perseverance, expertise and enthusiasm.
It was a close-run affair – and not just because of the timing. After promising their support for the reforms, the Coalition withdrew this support once the Government introduced a further amendment revoking the right of religious organisations to discriminate in the provision of aged-care services.
We than had to convince enough independents to vote for the Bill, or some Coalition members to abstain from the vote. After many tense moments we achieved both, and when it became clear that we had enough numbers, the Bill passed almost anti-climactically, without even a need to count the votes.
The aged-care protections are extremely important in ensuring that older LGBTI people, many of whom have faced discrimination throughout their lives, can age with the dignity and respect to which they are entitled.
Moreover, this victory is a stepping stone in the campaign to remove religious exemptions in all areas of service provision – including schools, hospitals, disability services and more. There is no logical reason to carve out only aged-care services, and we will working diligently to bring protection across-the-board in these areas.
The new legislation also provides explicit protection for intersex people, a world first.
Yet this was not the only good news of the week. Whatever ones makes of the politics of the past few days, the fact remains that we now have, for the first time, a Prime Minister who openly supports marriage equality. On this issue there is now a clear choice between the leaders of the two major parties, and Mr Rudd’s announcements can only increase the pressure on the Coalition to allow a conscience vote on the issue.
The impact of leadership on this issue cannot be overstated. In the United States, President Barack Obama hailed the Supreme Court decision to strike down Section 3 of the Defence of Marriage Act as a historic step forward. That decision means that same-sex couples legally married in 13 US states will now be eligible for federal benefits in areas including social security, tax and immigration.
While we cannot forget the many countries where our brothers and sisters are not yet free to love, this week has been one to celebrate the achievements of LGBTI activism across the globe.
Justin Koonin, NSW GLRL