Canberra to overrule Tasmania gay ban

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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIA'S federal government yesterday embarked on a showdown with Tasmania when it announced that it would legislate to override laws prohibiting homosexual sex.

Canberra's move came after a four-month stand-off with Tasmania, sparked when the United Nations Human Rights Committee condemned the island's anti- homsexual laws as a violation of human rights and called for their repeal. Tasmania is the only one of Australia's six states where consenting sex between male adults is a crime.

A law passed in 1924 prohibits 'sexual intercourse with any person against the order of nature' and carries a penalty of 21 years in prison. The UN found the Tasmanian law to be in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Australia is a signatory. The federal Labor government, under Paul Keating, has attempted to persuade Tasmania's Liberal (conservative) government to abide by the UN ruling or risk intervention from Canberra.

When the Tasmanian government refused to bow to the UN decision, gay rights groups in mainland Australia last month launched a campaign to boycott Tasmanian goods.

The 'Buy Right' campaign, as it is called, is aimed at produce such as seafood, cheese, beef, beer and wine, normally highly sought- after in Australian cities.

Organisers say that almost 400 businesses have pledged not to buy or sell Tasmanian goods and that more than 12,000 people have signed a petition calling for the anti-gay law to be repealed. The federal Cabinet yesterday approved legislation that will guarantee Australians a right to privacy in sexual relations.

The federal privacy law will not force the Tasmanian state government to repeal its legislation but under Australia's writtten constitution it will override any state law that is inconsistent with it.

Michael Lavarch, the federal Attorney-General, described the Tasmanian law as 'an obnoxious criminal provision which doesn't exist anywhere else in Australia and is inconsistent with Australia's human-rights obligations'.

He added: 'Individual human rights have to overrule any notion of state rights.'