About two decades ago, the island state of Tasmania, part of the Commonwealth of Australia, managed to earn the title “Bigots’ Island” due to its notorious conservatism.
Until May 1997, homosexuality was a crime punishable by up to twenty-five years in prison. Tasmania was one of the last places in Australia to decriminalize homosexuality, because the upper house rejected the bill a total of six times before passing it. The island received international and national criticism, including condemnation from the UN’s Human Rights Committee.
However, the last decade has seen a fast-paced progression towards a more liberal government. A bill to legalize euthanasia, although recently turned down, was re-introduced this year, and battery farming is slowly being phased out.
Despite moving forward, the still largely conservative government is holding its ground. They’ve prevented progression on certain key issues such as marriage equality, even though 65 percent of Australians support same-sex marriages.
On October 29, the conservative upper house rejected the latest attempt to pass the same-sex marriage bill with an 8-6 defeat, despite the lower house passing the bill last year.
Earlier in 2013, following the vote in the lower house, Tasmania was set to become the first jurisdiction in Australia to pass a pro-same-sex marriage law, but Australian Capital Territory (ACT) beat them to it last month. Now, it appears Tasmania won’t be following suit anytime soon.
LGBT rights activist Rodney Croome responded to the vote in a statement, saying, “[The constitution’s] concerns have now been addressed, but they still voted against the bill, showing that in reality they just don’t want to deal with this legislation.” A spokesperson for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, Croome has vowed to keep fighting for the bill to be passed.
Founder of the Australian Coalition for Equality (ACE), Croome applied to the High Court of Australia in 1997 to rule whether or not the Tasmanian anti-gay laws were conflicting with the country’s Federal Human Rights. His actions led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, cementing his importance in the LGBT rights movement in Tasmania.
With people like Croome continuing to fight for gay rights and with 65% of the country behind him, it shouldn’t take long before Tasmania’s upper house will be forced to reconsider marriage equality. Just like in 1997, they can only hold out for so long.