An Australian Catholic priest’s online campaign to close a controversial legal loophole in the state of Queensland’s Criminal Code has received a massive boost with nearly 160,000 people signing his petition – and over 100,000 of those in just the last few days.
Father Paul Kelly began campaigning on the issue after a man was killed in the grounds of his Maryborough church in 2008 and the killers acquitted of murder after one of the men claimed he had been reacting to a non-violent sexual advance.
Using the so-called ‘gay panic defense’ violent offenders argue that they were so provoked by an unwanted same-sex sexual advance that they were not in control of themselves, and should thus have murder charges downgraded to manslaughter.
‘I’m utterly appalled that a law that so revoltingly and openly discriminates against gay people is still tolerated in a modern society,’ Father Kelly said when launching the campaign.
‘While almost all other state governments have abolished similar laws, and refuse to admit evidence of non-violent homosexual advances in murder trials, nothing has changed here.’
Father Kelly relaunched his petition campaign last week on the Change.org website after Queensland’s new Attorney General, Jarod Bleijie, stated that he would not be changing the law under which the defense could be made.
The law was tightened in 2011 so that the defense could not be used where an advance was merely verbal and Bleijie said that had gone far enough.
Bleijie told ABC Radio on July 10 that he didn’t think there would be such a fuss if the same defense were being used in cases involving unwanted heterosexual advances.
‘If it had of been an unwanted sexual advance from anyone else I wonder whether you would even be talking to me about it,’ Bleijie said.
‘If it just had of been a man or a woman relying on that provision of the criminal code, I wonder if the media would be at all interested in it?’
Bleijie said there were sometimes legitimate cases where a provocation defense needed to be considered.
‘It depends on the circumstances, each case has to be assessed on its merit.’
The campaign has attracted a range of celebrity endorsements, including from actor and comedian Stephen Fry, author Neil Gaiman, and One Tree Hill actress Sophia Bush.