A Roman Catholic priest in the Australian state of Queensland is campaigning for an end to a law concerning murder and manslaughter that is widely regarded as homophobic.
The so-called 'gay panic' law allows a killing to be downgraded from murder to manslaughter if a male victim is thought to have made a pass at a male killer. The principle would not apply if the victim and killer were of different sexes.
Paul Kelly, who is priest at St Mary's Church in Maryborough, Queensland, has launched an online petition calling for the law to be scrapped.
A gay man was killed outside his church after allegedly showing sexual interest in one of his two killers. The two men involved were convicted of manslaughter after using the 'gay panic' defence.
“This law belongs in the dark ages,” said Kelly, “I’m utterly appalled that a law that so revoltingly and openly discriminates against gay people is still tolerated in a modern society”.
He pointed out that most Australian states have abandoned similar laws and now “refuse to admit evidence of non-violent homosexual advances in murder trials”. But, he adds, “nothing has changed here”.
Kelly argues that the damage done by the law goes beyond the issue of murder trials and contributes to attitudes to gay, lesbian and bisexual people generally.
“Laws like the 'gay panic' defence are a crucial part of legitimising and reinforcing a culture of hate,” he said, “Which means that 73 per cent of gay and lesbian Queenslanders are subjected to verbal abuse or physical violence for their sexuality.”
Kelly's petition has already received over 15,000 signatures.