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The Fragility of Gay Equality - An Australian Warning

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On 7 July 2012 World Gay Pride will be celebrated in London. Over the years London Gay Pride has changed from a mainly political event seeking equality for homosexual people to more of a celebration of gay culture and an excuse for a party.

Since the first Gay March in London in 1971, many of the key battles have been won in the fight for equality.  To mention just a few:
 
• 1980 - Male homosexuality was de-criminalised in Scotland (bringing it into line with England and Wales, where it was decriminalised in 1967).
 
• June 2000 - Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (which stated that a Local government could not "intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality") was repealed in Scotland and in the rest of the UK in November 2003.
 
• December 2005, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force providing equality in all but name in respect of state-sanctioned unions.
 
• 2001 - Parity in the age of consent for sexual relations was achieved.
 
• April 2010 - the third phase of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 came into force allowing same sex couples to apply for orders allowing them to be treated as parents of children born using a surrogate.

Given the above catalogue, it is not surprising that many feel that the fight for equal rights has been won in this country, albeit that the rights of both parties in a gay relationship to be legally recognised as the parents of their children is only two years' old.  However, the events unfolding in Queensland, Australia warn against complacency and demonstrate how quickly equality can be reversed.

On 21 June 2012 the new Queensland Government voted to remove the rights of gay people to enter civil unions. Going forward, state sanctioned ceremonies will no longer be possible and existing "civil unions" will be downgraded to "recognised relationships". Also, as if to emphasise the lower status of such unions, dissolving them will now be handled by the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages rather than the District Court.

The Queensland Parliament has further indicated that it intends to reverse the liberalisation of surrogacy laws which came into force in February 2010, which allowed same sex and single parents to enter into non-commercial surrogacy arrangements in Queensland.  Instead, it will legislate to punish gay couples or single parents who enter into surrogacy arrangements with prison sentences of up to three years.
 
It is hard to credit that such legislation is being passed in a sophisticated democracy and disappointing that the Australian Christian Lobby was so quick to congratulate the (ironically named) "Liberal National" Party for preventing gay couples from "acquiring babies" through surrogacy.
 
By contrast, in the UK, the government has indicated that it intends to allow gay couples in England and Wales to get married (although this change would be unlikely to take effect before 2015 and also faces opposition from the religious right) - thereby bringing equality to the terminology used for legal unions between homosexual and heterosexual people.  

As thousands of people take to the streets this weekend to celebrate gay pride in London, the current situation and outlook for gay couples in the UK is positive.  However, the events in Queensland, though far away in distance, are taking place in a modern Western democracy and cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to our own situation.