When we think 'LGBT+ hero', we rarely think 'Catholic priest', but Reverend Father Paul Kelly has turned that stereotype on its head by launching an online petition to stop 'gay panic' from being used as a legal defence against assault and murder charges.
In 2008, a man named Wayne Ruks was found dead outside Reverend Kelly's former parish in Maryborough, Queensland. The man charged with Mr Ruks's murder was acquitted after pleading gay panic, inspiring the Reverend to fight to have the laws abolished.
The Maryborough case is even dearer to Reverend Kelly, since it was the parish’s security footage that helped identify Mr Ruks's killer.
What is gay panic?
The gay panic defence refers to the "temporary insanity" brought on by an unwanted homosexual advance, and is still a legal defence in Queensland and South Australia, falling under the overarching defence of “provocation”.
“It goes like this," Reverend Kelly tells SBS. "'This man touched me sexually and I lost all control and bashed him.' People keep raising it in court, but it's a non-violent sexual advance that nobody can prove ever happened."
Though it was argued the perpetrator in the Maryborough case never legally invoked the gay panic defence, his plea alluded to it and his charge was taken down from murder to manslaughter.
Statutes outline several circumstances for provocation, but homosexuality is not one of them. However, Reverend Kelly tells us the defence has a long-standing common law precedence.
A Catholic priest advocating in favour of the gay community? You don't see that everyday!
The Catholic Church has been very vocal on its stance against the homosexual lifestyle, marriage, and adoption. But Reverend Kelly says stopping the gay panic defence is in fact in the gospel.
“This is the gospel, this is real Christian teaching,” says the Reverend. “They make it about homophobia when I’m trying to protect human dignity.”
The Reverend also believes the confusion between a “humanist issue” and LGBT+ issue is reason there has been such delay in stopping the defence. He believes people are afraid to align themselves with something they might not support, that is LGBT+ rights, even if they do support the abolition of a dangerous legal defence.
“I’m guessing there’s an inherent bigotry amongst the people who make the rules. They’re afraid if they do something about it, it’ll push some gay agenda. But what’s the hang up? Get over it!” he says.
Fair and just treatment of homosexual people is an actual rule within the Catholic church
Reverend Kelly also went on to explain how respectful treatment of the homosexual community is prescriptive within the catechism of the Catholic church, a collection of teachings and sayings compiled by Pope John Paul II.
“[sic] [Men and women with homosexual tendencies] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,” it reads.
However, when it comes to same-sex marriage, Reverend Kelly defers to the church’s stance, but still manages to express a more liberal view within Catholic conservatism.
“We live in this secular society and still there’s this need for the Catholic church to interject. I don’t want us to be irrelevant, but wouldn’t it be better if we said ‘come work with us’ and let people make their own conscious decisions?” he said.
Trying to make a difference
Within a month of Maryborough the first incident, a second incident was reported; a 62-year-old hitchhiker beaten to death for allegedly making a homosexual pass at two men, who then went on to attack him due to ‘gay panic’.
"I contacted a legal bloke to see what I could do about it and he suggested I get a petition going. I thought I’d only get a hundred or so signatures but we’re hitting almost 270,000!”
Even celebrities are getting behind the cause, showing their support over social media:
The end goal, says Reverend Kelly, is to stop laws that continue to promote bigotry.
“I don’t want laws that tolerate violence against a particular group of people. I think the world is tired of people getting bashed up for being different. And there’s been a lot of it lately,” he said.