Sunday, January 30, 2005

Some twenty years ago the state of New South Wales in Australia repealed the law that made consensual sex between adult males a crime, punishable by up to five years in jail.

But they didn't make the repeal retrospective. & so, in a Sydney Court last week, a priest in his sixties was charged with indecent assault & attempted buggery for a consensual act that was committed 23 years ago.

The other party, a teacher, 29 at the the time & who does not deny being gay, claimed in a victim statement that he has led a "wretched life of guilt, shame & pain" which he blames entirely on his encounter. "I had a sense that if I couldn't trust a priest, who could I trust, who could trust me."

The magistrate acknowledged the teacher's sense of betrayal, but rejected other claims that there had been physical intimidation, that the teacher was frightened, that there was post-traumatic stress. He found that the sex was consensual. "The adult victim was aware of the situation he was in & did not seek to leave it."

But although he admitted that "a conviction would not be obtained today" on the facts the magistrate still found the defendant guilty under the laws at the time of the offense. He sentenced the defendent "to the rising of the court" & then declared "all rise".

What remains, however, is the fact that homosexuals active before the law reforms of 1984 - &, to quote David Marr in the Sydney Morning Herald, "that means most gay men over 40" - may still face prosecution for having had sex back then, even though that sex would now be regarded as lawful.

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