BRISBANE priest Fr Paul Kelly is relieved the Queensland Government has introduced a bill to abolish the controversial “gay panic” defence.
Fr Kelly (pictured) has spent years campaigning to change the law, after a man was bashed and died in the grounds of the St Mary’s Church in Maryborough church where he was serving as parish priest in 2008.
Disgusted by the case, Fr Kelly starting a Change.org petition that has almost 290,000 signatures, making it one of the biggest the website has hosted.
His long campaign paid off, when the State Government on November 29 introduced a bill to abolish the partial defence, paving the way for the law to be passed next year.
“I’m relived because, to me, this whole issue has been about the first and foremost right of all human beings – the right to life and that all people under the law should feel the same protection against violence and killing,” he said.
“It’s that Catholic understanding of the absolute dignity of human life that should always be protected and respected.”
After the fatal churchyard bashing, two men were tried and found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder.
The accused men told the court that their victim, Wayne Ruks, had tried to grab one of the men’s crotch before he was beaten to death, shedding light on the so-called “gay panic defence”.
Under Queensland laws, unwanted homosexual or heterosexual advances can be used as a partial provocation defence for violent crimes.
“I felt an immense sadness for the victim and for the violence inflicted by the two people who attacked him,” Fr Kelly said.
“So many lives were ruined by that incident.
“I think the whole experience really did traumatise me and it did propel me to keep pushing for change.”
In 2011, Fr Kelly wrote to the Labor government at the time and was not satisfied with the response.
So he started a petition to close the legal loophole, labelling the “gay panic” law, which exists in Queensland and South Australia, as an “international disgrace”.
Fr Kelly said over the years, he was at times made to feel like a fool for his campaigning action, particularly, he said, by legal officers within the Queensland Attorney General’s office.
“The arguments they brought up were just preposterous,” he said.
“The general public sense of the law is sometimes better than what legal people will give you.
“And one thing that really got up my nose was when various legal people told me ‘we can’t change that law because it will affect women who kill their spouses because of domestic violence’.
“And I said, ‘Hold on, other states have allowed for that under self-defence and it is not a problem, but you are making it a problem’.”
Fr Kelly said he believed South Australia would follow Queensland’s lead and would push for similar legislative change in 2017.
“It’s all been worth it,” he said.
Fr Kelly is a police chaplain and will become an associate pastor in the Surfers Paradise parish from next month (January).
A parliamentary committee is due to report on the bill by February 2, 2017.