On November 8, the same day as Western Australia’s Legislative Assembly passed the Family Court Amendment Bill 2001, which gives formal recognition to homosexual couples in State law, some 3,000 people gathered outside the WA Parliament to express their support for marriage and children and to oppose the Gallop Government’s law reform agenda.
The rally, organised by a group of churches working under the name “Standing Together”, heard from an impressive line-up of speakers including local barrister, John Gilmour QC; former National President of the RSL, Major-General Digger James; the AFA’s John Barich; tennis champion and church pastor, Margaret Court; Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey; and leaders from the Reformed, Baptist, Churches of Christ and Pentecostal denominations.
Significantly, given Anglican Primate Peter Carnley’s outspoken support for the homosexual agenda, Anglican Bishop Anthony Nichols of the North-West spoke firmly against the Government’s reforms.
Similarly, Rev Mike Fawcett, representing the Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church, made it clear that the Uniting Church is by no means united on the issue.
Rev Dwight Randall, the Director of Life Ministries and the chairman of the rally, said the Gallop Government would not survive beyond its first term if it failed to listen to the concerns of ordinary people. “It accused the previous Government of arrogance, but now it acts arrogantly,” he said.
The rally was also addressed by Cheryl Edwardes who, in her capacity as representative of the Shadow Attorney-General, had been leading the opposition to the Family Court Amendment Bill.
Mrs Edwardes was successful in obtaining a few minor amendments to the original bill, including a requirement to notify a spouse before the Family Court could divide the property of a de facto couple one of whom was still married. The Liberals, and Independents Phil Pendal and Janet Woollard, remained opposed to the bill and voted solidly against it.
On November 14, Attorney-General Jim McGinty, observing a promise he had made to an earlier rally of 400 homosexuals and sympathisers, introduced the Acts Amendment (Lesbian and Gay Law Reform) Bill 2001 into the Legislative Assembly.
The bill amends 19 Acts of Parliament. If passed, it would result in legal recognition of a lesbian partner as a “parent” of a child whom her partner conceived through artificial fertilisation. It would also permit access of single women and lesbians to IVF, and of male homosexuals and lesbians to joint applications for adoption.
While discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation – defined to include homosexuality, lesbianism and bisexuality – would be forbidden, discrimination against people on the grounds of their heterosexuality would not be unlawful.
The age of consent for homosexual acts would be 16, and the Criminal Code would be changed to allow 16-year-old boys to be admitted to sex-on-premises venues such as homosexual saunas.
Two examples demonstrate just how vicious such legislation could be if, as proposed, it gives the Equal Opportunity Tribunal power to fine individuals for alleged vilification of homosexuals.
Edith Cowan University’s Head of Student Services has sought to dismiss the Catholic Chaplain, Fr David Watt, and posted a notice purporting to close the Catholic Chapel at the University’s Mt Lawley campus, in response to a campaign by the University’s Queer Collective, who objected to Fr Watt signing an advertisement for the Rally for Marriage and Children.
The alleged dismissal failed to follow the university’s own protocols and has been challenged by Archbishop Hickey, and Fr Watt is continuing to offer Mass at the chapel.
The Advertising Standards Bureau has upheld a complaint by Democrats Senator Brian Greig against the Australian Family Association, declaring that “material within [an] advertisement [criticising the Gallop Government for its plans to lower the age of consent for homosexual acts to 16] vilified homosexual people by its implication of an association between homosexuality and paedophilia”.
AFA State President John Barich responded to the Board’s decision by stating:
“We are profoundly disturbed by the Board’s agreement with the complainants that plain-speaking and factual statements opposing changes in the law on homosexual behaviour are to be considered as vilification and censored.
“We refuse to comply with the Board’s determination and resolve to continue to inform the public of Western Australia accurately and fully about legislation regarding homosexual behaviour.”
If the legislation can be delayed until Parliament’s session ends for Christmas, the Government may use the summer break to reflect on the strength of the public reaction to its plans; Labor’s recent Federal defeat; and the inexorable reality that if Premier Geoff Gallop and his colleagues want a second term, they can’t afford to alienate too many more voters between now and the next State election, due in February 2005.