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Thursday, 18 October 1973
Page: 2330

Dr CASS (Maribyrnong) (Minister for the Environment and Conservation) - Mr Speaker,' I second the motion. Australia does not look favourably upon homosexuals. In our predominantly conformist, overtly masculine society, fixed on the 2-child nuclear family mushrooming in suburban wastelands, the homosexual is an unwelcome outsider. Unmasculine by popular consensus, unmarried, non-fathering, anti-suburban, homosexuals are Australia's most obvious minority group. In this country the homosexual is not merely shunned as a mora] leper or despised as a pervert, he is actively discriminated against. Our criminal penalties are severe, and our social sanctions savage. At a particularly barbaric level 'poofter-bashing' is virtually a recognised national civilian team sport, while police harassment in some States is accepted as an office perk by 'the police and as an occupational hazard by the victim.

Of course, all minority groups suffer by being different. But sexuality and identity are so profoundly connected, and so profoundly important, that homosexuals in a dominant heterosexual society live under unique and potentially crippling psychological pressure, In Australia, they a,ISo have to cope with legal, social, and institutional discrimination. Both sources of pressure, operating simultaneously every day, mean that homosexuals suffer doubly for their difference, they are victims of double jeopardy. Difficulties such as these, however, have not prevented homosexuality from enduring through the ages. Whether treated as an illness, a crime, or an aberration, homosexuality has survived. As an expression of sexual preference, its validity has been confirmed by history.

There is still, of course, widespread basic concern in the community about the so called abnormal' sexual behaviour of homosexuals. But then, heterosexuals have stretched the meaning of 'normal' by their behaviour as well. The community's selective moral indignation is misplaced. Homosexuals are human beings whose sexual preference differs from hat of heterosexuals. Neither group has a monopoly on so-called 'perversion'. We accept the principle that, as long as it does not interfere with other people's civil liberties, heterosexual behaviour is a personal matter and ought to remain outside the interests of the state. It is now time for us to go one step further and recognise that there is no justification for society or the law to concern itself with any sexual activity - heterosexual or homosexual - which is otherwise legal and mutually acceptable to the people involved. Since, most homosexuals are indeed lawabiding citizens, except in the expression of ' their sexuality, it is bn tait for the rest of us to continue to impose the crushing institutional costs of being a sexually different human.

As politicians, of course, we are as concerned with public response as with general principles; and it is a fact that limited information is available on the attitudes of Australians towards homosexuality and the law. The Roy Morgan Research Centre has never conducted a survey on this subject. The Australian Nationwide Opinion Poll organisation had conducted only one usable survey before this year. The Australian Sales Research Bureau has conducted 2 vague tests in recent years; and even a pair of academics, Drs Duncan Chappell and Paul Wilson, conducted limited, although well-phrased, surveys in 1967 and 1970 which unfortunately were not strictly comparable. What information we do have, however, suggests a surprising level of public liberality on the issue. The recent survey by the A.S.R.B of attitudes to 10 social issues revealed that fewer people were willing to make moral judgments about homosexuals than about marihuana, poker machines, capital punishment, abortion, censorship and communism. Twenty-eight per cent of 2,000 respondents felt homosexuals were neither right nor wrong', compared with a spread of between 8 per cent and 26 per cent for the other 6 issues. Only the firmly entrenched habits of cigarette and alcohol consumption and the question of 'hippies' extracted a greater level of moral detachment.

As well, the 1970 survey by Wilson and Chappell of 900 people in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane showed that 56 per cent believed it should not be a crime for 2 adult males to engage in homosexual practices in a private home. Their previous survey in 1967, while not strictly comparable, indicated support for this move at only 22 per cent. Most recently, A.N.O.P conducted a national survey in August, asking respondents whether they believed homosexuality between consenting adults should be legalised. For the first time in such a poll, a majority were in favour - 48 per cent agreed, only 46 per cent disagreed and 6 per cent had no opinion. A roughly comparable survey in March 1972 resulted in 50 per cent of respondents opposing the legalisation of homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private. These responses suggest a high degree of tolerance - in both relative and absolute terms - which is clearly far more liberal than the laws of the land. A few days ago the Federal Council of the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists approved a clinical memorandum on homosexuality. It strongly condemned 'community attitudes and laws which discriminate against homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private'.

Buggery and attempted buggery have been illegal for centuries in the English speaking world - regardless of the gender of the participantsever since the offence was forbidden in ecclesiastical law. However, changes to Britain's criminal law in 1885 introduced the new and specifically homosexual serious offences of 'indecent acts' and 'indecent practices' even when performed in private between consenting male adults. Those changes remain enshrined in Australia's State and Federal laws relating to homosexuality, even though some were removed from the British original in 1967. Lesbian behaviour, which was deliberately excluded from the 1885 legislation and required no attention in 1967, consequently remains non-criminal in Australia.

The language of legal sanctions against homosexual behavior is as interesting as the penalties themselves. In Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania sodomy is referred to as 'carnal knowledge . . . against the order of Nature'. In the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria the relevant statutes speak of the 'abominable crime of buggery'. Only in South Australia is the offence referred to merely as 'buggery'.

Not surprisingly, the more colourful statutes impose the heavier penalties. The Australian Capital Territory law provides for a maximum of life imprisonment and a minimum of 5 years; Tasmania allows a maximum of 21 years; Victora may impose 15 years imprisonment - or 20 years when vio lence or an under-age offence is involved; while New South Wales is content with 14 years. In New South Wales, incidentally, it is possible for an abominable man to be guilty of indecent assault with consent.

Clearly, there is an urgent need for reform. But, Mr Speaker, it needs to be pointed out that to defend the rights of homosexuals is not to endorse or advocate homosexuality; it is simply to recognise that, as long as homosexuals abide by laws to which all citizens are subject, they ought equally to be free to express their sexual preferences. Genuine offences - such as rape, assault, indecent exposure, child molesting and other acts - occur amongst heterosexuals as well as homosexuals, and are capable of being dealt with by laws which apply equally to all. Similarly it is important to recognise that this motion does not seek to legalise homosexuality in the sense of issuing a licence or charter for homosexual activity. Rather, this motion supports the decriminalising of homosexuality - the removal of sexually selective legal discrimination. This is, of course, only the first step. Hopefully, the removal of legal insult will result in the abandonment of social stigma. Social pressures, police harassment, housing difficulties, and job discrimination exacerbate the intense pressures constantly felt by homosexuals in Australia. The passing of this motion would constitute a signal that the time has arrived for the end of sexually biased social oppression in Australia.

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