Option to settle gay rights issue

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 4:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 4:49am

Top-court rulings overseas on legal and social issues that resonate here, spelt a setback for sexual equality rights this month.

The Indian Supreme Court restored a 19th century British colonial law making homosexuality a serious crime, overturning a lower court decision that struck it down. The judges ruled it was a matter for legislators.

In Canberra, the Australian High Court struck down a law legalising same-sex marriages passed by the capital city's legislature, because it conflicted with a national law which restricts marriage to unions between a man and a woman.

Though India is socially conservative, politicians should take up the challenge thrown down by the courts to end a taboo that foreign rulers imposed in the first place. Health workers fear the Supreme Court ruling will undo years of progress in fighting AIDS by driving gay and transgender people underground.

In Australia, the judgment that devastated same-sex couples came with a silver lining. It had always been assumed that the world "marriage" in the Australian constitution meant unions between a man and a woman. The six judges ruled that it meant the union of any two natural people, which means the federal parliament would not be inviting a constitutional challenge if it now legislated for same-sex marriage.

The issues resonate in Hong Kong, where 60 per cent of people favour putting the question of an anti sex-discrimination law to a public consultation. In the face of conservative opposition, the government instead referred it to an advisory group. Having already legislated to outlaw other forms of discrimination, Hong Kong has established itself as a tolerant society in which the gay rights issue will not go away.

New Zealand came to terms with same-sex marriage by first of all living with the halfway house of civil unions, which confer similar legal rights and protections. Hopefully Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's advisers and the Equal Opportunities Commission will explore this alternative as a means of reconciling opposing views.