Australia: Major Gay Law Reform in Tasmania

After nine years of community organizing to repeal Tasmania's anti-gay law, the Tasmanian legislature finalized a vote to repeal their statute criminalizing same-sex relations on May 1, 1997.

This decision marked not only the elimination of Australia's only remaining state law banning same sex relations, but it also marked Australia's compliance with the 1994 United Nations' ruling on this issue in the case of Nicholas Toonen v. Australia.

Toonen brought a complaint before the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC), charging that Australia had violated its obligations under Articles 2, 17, and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by allowing the state of Tasmania to maintain legislation prohibiting sexual contact between consenting adult males. On April 4, 1994, the HRC ruled that the Tasmanian law contradicts Article 17 (right to privacy) and Article 2 (non-discrimination within the Covenant) of the ICCPR. The Committee did not consider Article 26 (equal protection under the law) in making its decision, but did state that the protected category of "sex" in Article 2 of the ICCPR "is to be taken as including sexual orientation."

The UN formally called on Australia to eliminate this law. The Australian federal government responded by passing national legislation protecting the sexual privacy of its citizens, but until now, the law in Tasmania remained on the books.

The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission congratulates the Tasmanian activists on their hard work and long over-due victory.