An Australian Catholic priest’s long campaign to end his “gay panic” defense in his state of Queensland may finally be successful. Just two days ago, Attorney General Yvette D’Ath introduced the bill to Parliament, the end of years of lobbying by Fr. Paul Kelly.
The “gay panic” defense has been allowed in murder cases where the accused claims he did not have control of his mind because of being provoked by what is perceived as a homosexual advance towards him. The defense allows for charges to be lowered from murder to manslaughter, thus avoiding a possible life sentence.
Fr. Kelly, who is pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Maryborough, 330 kms north of Brisbane, began the campaign after a heterosexual man was beaten to death in the parish yard in 2008 by two men who thought he was making an advance toward them. The priest began a change.org petition which has collected over 290,000 signatures. Through his efforts, he persuaded politicians of all political stripes to work to eradicate this defense from law.
The Guardian reported on Kelly’s reaction to the bill finally being introduced. The priest stated:
“It’s been a massive effort, unfortunately. At one point both sides [of politics] were sort of saying, aw no, the law didn’t exist and doesn’t need changing – but suddenly everyone’s saying it is a problem and does need changing, so that’s good to hear.
“This is as far as we’ve ever gotten and I’m fairly confident it will [pass].”
Kelly had used even stronger language in his change.org petition:
“I’ve made it my mission to see this revolting law abolished – it belongs in the dark ages. I have no words to describe how offensive, harmful and dangerous it is that two of our governments uphold that a person can be panicked enough by gay people to justify murder. The common law can really be only over-ridden in this respect by explicit legal ammendments to the Code of Criminal law covering murder and the partial defence of Provocation. Gay panic will continue to be a part of the law of these states until expressly excluded. I am also concerned that even when cases are not formally and specifically pleading the ‘gay panic’ defense, the mere bringing in of suggestions that the victim made a non-violent homosexual advance, (whether true or not), poisons the waters and taps into deep-seated homophobia and bigotry and ought not be brought up at all in any way in the hearing of a jury. The victim is not on trial here.”
Kelly also reported that when he started the petition, he only expected about 100 to sign it. The overwhelming response delivers a strong message, he said:
“When it took off I hadn’t seen anything like it and it really opened my eyes the power of the community. But in some ways it was a no-brainer. The fact it’s taken so long sends a message. But that this law’s being changed now sends another message that the law is the same for everybody. It’s not going to give certain members of the community less protection from violence.”
You can watch a video clip of Fr. Kelly delivering his petition signatures by clicking here. A parliamentary committee will report on the bill by February 21, 2017, reported The Brisbane Times.
While it is gratifying that it looks likely that this archaic law will soon be abolished, it is even more gratifying that a Catholic priest has led the campaign. Fr. Kelly is a shining example of how the Church’s teaching on the defense of human rights for LGBT people can be applied to concrete political and legal situations. To use Fr. Kelly’s own words, there are many similar “no brainers” for Catholic leaders to follow his example. Decriminalizing sexual orientation and gender identity are one case. Pushing for stronger anti-bullying programs is another. And speaking out forcefully when violence against LGBT people occurs is still another.
Our church needs more leaders like Fr. Paul Kelly.
For previous Bondings 2.0 posts about Fr. Kelly’s campaign, click here.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 2, 2016