16 September 2017

Does the gay marriage vote in Australia mean anything for East Timor?

ETLJB 16092017 AUSTRALIAN MARRIAGE EQUALISATION VOTE & INFLUENCE ON EAST TIMOR It is expected that the Australian people will vote to express their view on whether the national Parliament should amend the definition of marriage in the federal Marriage Act 1961 so that it does not preclude people of the same gender from lawfully marrying. This follows a wave of enlightenment in western democracies and, critically, the United States Supreme Court's declaration that discriminatory marriage laws are unconstitutional.

Similar plebiscites were held in other foreign jurisdictions of most note, Ireland, where there is no clear separation of church and state.

What, if anything, does this mean for East Timor? The Catholic Church is a powerful institution in East Timor, having been in close solidarity with the people during the genocide and the resistance. Its power extends to influencing public policy and laws, even the Constitution itself when it objected to the inclusion of sexual orientation in the anti-discrimination provisions of the constitution. It's stance on gay marriage is clear but so is the intention of the East Timorese gay community as demonstrated in the recent pride event in Dili.

Being geographically close and having common strategic interests - peace in the south east Asian peninsula - Australian and East Timor will continue to interact at both political and personal levels.

One question is, will the East Timorese government recognise marriages between persons of the same sex under Australian law? This will be a tricky question for the East Timorese policy makers and law enforcement administration.

A second question is will the East Timorese truly comply with international law-making instruments against discriminatory laws referenced to gender or sexual orientation? The whole nation suffered so horribly during the occupation from human rights abuses. Have the lessons been learned or will supernatural bigotry hold the day and marginalise gay citizens?

Thirdly, how will the East Timorese community react to Australian gay married couples who are living in East Timor? There is a significant gay community in East Timor but there is still much social aggression towards gay men and women.

The desire of the young generation to join the modern community of nations is great. Their continuing struggle for economic justice and prosperity motivates their activism and agitation towards unjust government policies including far too much corruption in the state administration. Even the Justice Minister Lucia Lobato was sent to prison for 5 years for abuse of state power.

The democratic social transformations that are happening in relation to same sex marriage are remarkable and lay a challenge to those polities that still practice constitutional and legal discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The gay community in Australia should try to support our brothers and sisters in East Timor at least by recognising their struggle and standing in solidarity with them.

See also Komunitas LGBT gelar aksi langka di Timor Leste

ETLJB has long agitated for abolition of legal and social discrimination against citizens in Timor-Leste based on their sexual orientation. Several articles can be found by using our search tool top right.


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