11 February 2022

Melbourne Pride – reflections on decriminalisation of homosexuality in Victoria: 40th anniversary

This year's Melbourne Pride celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Victoria. I think it is fitting that the theme for this celebration has been styled as 'Road to Pride'. There have been huge strides made in the advancement of LGBTQIA+ rights in Victoria since the historic repeal of Victoria's sodomy laws in 1981 – substantial social and legal changes which we can all be proud of. That said, there is still a fair distance to go along the road, before we reach a place where all LGBTQIA+ Victorians are afforded indiscriminate equality before the law.

From 1958 until March 1981, homosexuality was considered a crime in Victoria under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). While the subject of homosexual law reform was first raised in the public arena in Victoria around 1969, it continued to be a vexed public issue throughout the course of the 1970s. It was only when the Homosexual Law Reform Coalition (HLRC), a coalition of gay groups in Melbourne, was formed in 1977, that the issue gained meaningful traction. After sustained lobbying by the HLRC and other interest groups, in late 1980 the Liberal Hamer government introduced the Crimes (Sexual Offences) Bill 1980 to remove homosexual offences from the criminal law. That law was passed 72-7 on 23 December 1980, and came into effect on 1 March 1981.

In the four decades since then, the number of Federal and State-based legal reforms for LGBTQIA+ Victorians have been varied, and too numerous to count. Perhaps most conspicuously was the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2016. At the State level, reforms in recent memory include the criminalisation of conversion therapy practices under the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 (which was passed in February 2021), and the introduction of the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Bill 2008 (which came into effect on 1 January 2010) – which broadened surrogacy and IVF options for same-sexual partners. All Victorians, and Australians, should be proud of this progress.

However, there is a lot more to be done. As lawyers know very well, the law is not necessarily always fair, nor equal by default. While the advances in LGBTQIA+ rights in Victoria should be celebrated, I think it is important to also acknowledge that not all advances have been shared equally across the LGBTQIA+ community – with some pockets of the community continuing to experience legal discrimination.

As a cisgender man, I am aware that I am a member of the LGBTQIA+ community who has enjoyed a relative amount of privilege, while the rights of other members of the community have lagged. Medical interventions on intersex children remain legal in Victoria, notwithstanding the publication of a report by the Human Rights Law Commission last year which found that such surgeries are non-consensual, and which recommended that any such surgeries only be carried out on the recommendation of an independent panel.

In a similar vein, the contentiousness of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 brought before Federal Parliament after a failed motion in the Senate is a sobering reminder of the extent to which the fundamental rights of transgender Australians are considered to be ‘up for continued debate’.

Overall, there is a whole lot of progress to celebrate at this year’s Melbourne Pride. But the fortieth anniversary of homosexuality’s decriminalisation should also give LGBTQIA+ Victorians and allies pause. Pause to consider what more can be done to ensure equal rights for all parts of the community. That way, come the fiftieth anniversary, we will have even more to be proud of.

Contact

Harvey Duckett

Harvey is a commercial dispute resolution lawyer in our Melbourne team.