Nick Toonen was a gay Tasmanian in a state where consenting sex between adult men in private was still punishable by up to 25 years’ gaol. Mr Toonen alleged that this violated his right to privacy and that the only effective remedy would be repeal of the relevant provisions of the Tasmanian Criminal Code. The Australian Government agreed with Mr Toonen, noting that homosexuality had been decriminalised in all other Australian jurisdictions. The Tasmanian Government defended its laws, however, on public health and moral grounds. The HRC found the laws were an arbitrary interference with Mr Toonen’s right to privacy and that an effective remedy would require the repeal of those laws. It also established that the prohibition on discrimination on the basis of ‘sex’ found in articles 2(1) and 26 includes sexual orientation. Australia enacted the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994 (Cth) to prohibit laws that arbitrarily interfere with the sexual conduct of adults in private. Tasmania subsequently amended its Criminal Code.
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Edward Young was in a same-sex relationship with war veteran Larry Cain for 38 years until the latter’s death. Mr Young was denied the pension paid to the dependants of war veterans who have died of war-related causes. The Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (Cth) explicitly stated that eligible partners are of the opposite sex to the veteran, and this was the reason given for refusing Mr Young’s application. The Toonen case had established sexual orientation as a proscribed ground for differentiation under article 26, and the HRC found in Mr Young’s favour. It suggested Mr Young’s application for the pension be reconsidered without prejudice, and the law amended, if necessary. In 2008, Australia amended many instances of same-sex discrimination in federal legislation in a broad range of areas including veterans’ entitlements, and cited Young v Australia as an influencing factor. Mr Young has still not received the pension, however, as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs now contests his claim that Mr Cain died of war-related causes. The dispute is now one of medical opinion. The HRC has deemed Australia’s response unsatisfactory and follow-up dialogue ongoing.
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