Sunday, 19 June 2016

Which countries permit same sex marriage? How does Australia stack up?

It is embarrassing that, with news that Mexico will likely allow same sex marriage everywhere , that same sex marriage is still not permitted in Australia, and that rather than politicians just doing their job and passing laws to enable same sex marriage, we are likely (if the Turnbull government is re-elected) to have to go through the pain of a $160 million+ plebiscite, at the other end of which after more horrible things are said about LGBTI people (especially after the traumatic events of Orlando), psome conservative politicians will continue to oppose the recognition of equal rights.

So where else is same sex marriage permitted?

I thought it would be good to do a recap- and see which countries we are behind:

Australia prides itself as being a model Western nation- progressive, modern and democratic. A good guide for this is our membership of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD. How do we stack up against other OECD members? Well, it's evenly stacked: 17 all  now allow same sex marriage or are soon to do so.






Czech Republic















- part, soon to be all


New Zealand




Slovak Republic






- except N. Ireland





Wednesday, 15 June 2016

LGBTI Legal Service 6th anniversary celebration with Michael Kirby!

On 19 August I have the privilege of being one of two speakers at the 6th anniversary of the award winning LGBTI Legal Service. The other speaker is the ever inspiring  Hon. Michael Kirby, who needs no introduction.

The anniversary event will be held in the Banco Court, the ceremonial (and largest) court in the Supreme Court building in Brisbane.

When in 2009 it was announced that there were moves to have a service, I was very excited. I wanted to make sure this nascent service succeeded. I immediately blogged it, repeatedly, but more to the point I drew up a list of all the LGBTI family lawyers (and other LGBTI or LGBTI friendly lawyers) I knew, and went through the list, either by phone or email or both, trying to persuade as many of them to come along and take part. I figured if I did this, then the chances of the service falling over would be greatly diminished. I was determined to do all I could to make sure the service succeeded. What I was sure of was that the service was desperately needed. It would be a terrible thing if it failed.

Thankfully, many of the colleagues I contacted took up the challenge, and started volunteering for the service. The service was up, up and away!

I was rostered on the first night, with a commercial lawyer Caeli Lovell.  Despite all our preparations, we did not have any clients that night. It was disappointing. However, in preparation of the that first night, I bought two things: a cake from the Shingle Inn- with PINK icing and a bottle of PINK bubbles. I figured that this was an event that was worth celebrating. The others that night thought I was made, but then got into the spirit. A standard household candle was found, plonked into the middle of the cake, lit, blown out, and then we celebrated!

Five months later, on World Aids Day, the service was formally opened by the Hon Michael Kirby.

I remained a volunteer lawyer with the service until January this year, when I realised that I simply, sadly, no longer had the time available. A salami can only be sliced so thin! Last year I and several other volunteer lawyers received the Rainbow Keys Award for 5 years service as volunteers.

The service has now had hundreds of clients, a tribute to its success- and has done this all on the smell of an oily rag. It is the ONLY unfunded community legal centre in Queensland. It needs all the (financial) help it can get.

And now the former Justice Kirby will be joining again as the keynote speaker on 19th August. Please join him and me to make that night a night to celebrate and remember!

More details are here:

Last night in Brisbane: I want to be able to hold hands safely

My husband Mitchell and I, and probably two thousand other people (it was a BIG crowd) turned up last night for a candlelight vigil to commemorate the victims of the Pulse shootings in Orlando.

There were extraordinarily moving speeches, including by Brisbane Pride chair Deeje Hancock, and local politicians Terri Butler, Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, and Councillor Vicki Howard.

I am sick and tired of the homophobic attitudes displayed so rawly in Orlando. I am glad that my friends and colleagues in that part of the world are safe and well. One of them did not check in for a while, and I was concerned that he had died, but thankfully he is safe and well, too.

Since the awful spray of hate, we have seen some bigots who have proclaimed that the loss of these innocents was a good thing. Those people who spout this evil disgust me.

They perpetrate the same evil that happens when my husband and I walk down the street. We hold hands. Too often we cop evil glares- often from straight couples who are, surprise, surprise, also holding hands. Sometimes we cop homophobic abuse. This evil, which feeds attitudes displayed by the killer in Orlando, must be stopped. We have copped this abuse in Brisbane, Sydney (worse) and Melbourne (worst of them all). It has to stop. We have to get along and live with each and accept that we are different, but equals.

I am glad so many people came out last night to the rally. I am glad that the politicians of both stripes showed true leadership. I am glad that Queensland's Parliament House was lit up in rainbow colours, as was the Treasury Casino. I am glad that the Story Bridge was lit up in rainbow colours the night before, and the Victoria Bridge in red, white and blue. I am glad that while the rally happened, the two pointers and the Southern Cross peaked out behind the clouds and said as if a measure of comfort, reassurance and safety- we are here, we are safe, we are equal.

Celebrating diversity in Brisbane

On the same night as awful events were occurring halfway around the world, in Brisbane we celebrated with Queen's Ball, one of the oldest celebrations for LGBTI people in the world.

 With Wil Alam, Lia Volpe and Emile McPhee after LGBTI Legal Service won its award.

Alas, I was not awarded with Activist of the Year this year. The Activist of the Year instead was the very worthy Emile McPhee. Emile works for the large law firm McCullagh Robertson and in his spare time is the co-ordinator of the still unfunded LGBTI Legal Service. Talk about a well deserved award!

I was delighted also that LGBTI Legal Service was awarded community organisation of the year. I put my all in at the inception of that service to get other lawyers to volunteer along with me. It is such a great organisation, and truly deserved its award.

The other significant community awardees were:

  • Ally of the Year- the ever going Shelley Argent from PFLAG
  • Young Person of the Year- law student Ben English from QUT
  • Lifetime achievement award- to Bill Rutkin, who has been activist in this space for as longas I can recall- which is a LONG time!
Congratulations to all who received awards, and those who were nominated. It is poignant to reflect and see what Brisbane celebrated turned into grief on the other side of the world.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Overwhelmed by Orlando

I, like many of us, am overwhelmed by the senseless loss of life in a hate crime against LGBTI people in Orlando. People who were just out partying. As a friend of mine said, people like me. 

I quickly found out that a friend and colleague who lives near there is safe and well. 

Another dear friend and colleague who lives there - I don't know if he is alive or dead. He is not responding to my messages. I hope he is OK. 

My thoughts and prayers are going to the friends and families cut down in yet the latest massacre in the US, of people again targeted by hate. I cannot imagine the grief that you are going through. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. 

Tomorrow, Tuesday, at 6pm I will be joining others at a candlelight vigil at Reddacliff Place at Brisbane Square. 

Monday, 30 May 2016

What an extraordinary week!

I do many presentations in a year. In most years, I present about a dozen times. Ok, that sounds like once a month. But of course it doesn't happen like that. It might happen once a week, just like last week when I presented to the Family Court of Auatralia about surrogacy. Much more often, presentations occur in clusters.

Just like when I get asked: how often do you go to court? Well it might be once every couple of months or once a week, or several times in the one week: it varies, and when it happens, too often there will be two or three cases on the same day!

This week is an illustration of that chaos in action. 

All week: the office renovation

Few things are as exciting, stressful or as disruptive as the office renovation. Quite simply we couldn't fit everyone at Harrington Family Lawyers in like sardines anymore and wanted to have some room to do mediations. So we took over the space next door. 

For months, we have waited to be able to get the renovations under way. Now they are happening! Within the hour, two internal walls and our old front door are being ripped down. On the weekend we have had painters, electricians and carpenters in. 

Today more mass chaos as offices and files are moved, with electricians hanging out of the ceiling, etc., ahead of the dreaded: the whole office is being painted Wednesday and Thursday. Oh what fun. 

Out for Australia: Tuesday

Tomorrow night Out for Australia and Allens are holding an event in Brisbane, talking about the law and how it affects LGBTIQ people. I am one of the panelists. There are expected to be about 100 people turning up. There are still a few seats available. Looks like it will be a stimulating night! 

Gay Dads surrogacy event: Thursday

On Thursday night I join renowned US surrogacy lawyer Steve Snyder and US fertility doctor Dr Said Daneshmand to talk about surrogacy in the US. The event is full. It is illegal for residents of Queensland to undertake commercial surrogacy in the US. 

Canadian surrogacy event: Friday

On Friday I take part in a Canadian surrogacy event with Leia Swanberg from Canadian Fertility Consulting, Dr Daneshmand and Alex McNab, a Canadian surrogacy lawyer. Many Australians are now undertaking surrogacy in Canada- where surrogacy is altruistic, but unlike Australia is available. 

Families Through Surrogacy conference: Saturday

The conference, the largest of its kind in Australia, will run in Brisbane on Saturday and Sunday. There are expected to be 200+ attendees taking part in sessions about all things to do with surrogacy. On Saturday I will moderate two panels: one about international legal issues and the other about using surrogacy agencies. 

Brisbane will host some of the top US experts on surrogacy, including Steve Snyder, Dr Daneshmand, and  renowned surrogacy lawyer Andy Vorzimer, Dr Michael Feinman, as well as representatives from the big three surrogacy agencies: Karen Synesiou from the Center for Surrogate Parenting, psychologist Dr Kim Bergman from Growing Generations and lawyer Scott Buckley from Circle Surrogacy. 

There will be many local speakers as well, including fertility counsellors Miranda Montrone and Michael Condon, and  IVF doctors Warren deAmbrosis from Qld Fertility Group and Julie Lindstrom from City Fertility Centre. 

And then, after hosting a dinner for some of the local and international speakers at the conference, my week will finally be over!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Federal Parliamentary inquiry says no to commercial surrogacy

The Federal Parliamentary inquiry has concluded that commercial surrogacy in Australia continue to be banned, that there be national, non-discriminatory surrogacy laws, and that it be harder for Australians to undertake surrogacy in developing countries.

The inquiry, by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, chaired by Nationals MP George Christensen, raised concerns about the potential for exploitation of both surrogates and children, and questioned whether birth certificates should issue that included the name of the surrogate and any donors of genetic material, as well as that of the parents.

The Committee has recognised that Australians will continue to access surrogacy overseas. It is likely that, with continued restrictions on surrogacy in Australia, that there will remain a shortage of available surrogates in Australia, meaning that if anything there will continue to be a growth in the number of Australians accessing commercial surrogacy overseas. However, the recommendations of the inquiry are to make it harder for Australians to access surrogacy overseas, by Australian intended parents having to prove to Australian officials that they have not broken the law in Australia or overseas before they can bring their children into Australia. Whether this will lead to children being stranded overseas remains to be seen.

The full list of recommendations is:

Recommendation 1
The Committee recommends that the practice of commercial surrogacy remain illegal in Australia.
Recommendation 2
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in conjunction with the Council of Australian Governments, consider the development of a model national law that facilitates altruistic surrogacy in Australia. The model law should have regard to the following four guiding principles:
·      that the best interests of the child should be protected (including the child’s safety and well-being and the child’s right to know about their origins), 

·      that the surrogate mother is able to make a free and informed decision about whether to act as a surrogate, 

·      that sufficient regulatory protections are in place to protect the surrogate mother from exploitation, and 

·      that there is legal clarity about the parent-child relationships that result from the arrangement.

Recommendation 3 
The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General request the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to conduct a 12-month inquiry into the surrogacy laws of Australian States and Territories, with a view to developing a model national law on altruistic surrogacy. The Attorney-General should request that the ALRC consider: 

·      first and foremost, the best interests of the child, 

·      previous reviews of Australian surrogacy laws, including the 2009 report of the Standing Committee on Attorneys-General and the 2013 Family Law Council report on Parentage and the Family Law Act 1975,
·      the need for State and Territory laws to be non-discriminatory, 

·      the need for mandatory, independent and in-person counselling for all parties before entering into a surrogacy arrangement, during pregnancy, after the birth, and at relinquishment, 

·      the need for background checks, medical and psychological screening, and independent legal advice for all parties entering into a surrogacy arrangement, 

·      the need for parties to enter into a non-binding surrogacy agreement which sets out shared expectations of all parties, including dispute resolution processes, and which ensures that parties respect the birth mother's right to make decisions about her own health and that of the child, 

·      the processes by which parental responsibility is transferred from the birth mother to intended parents, and when this transfer should take place, 

·      the need for adequate reimbursement for the birth mother for legal, medical and other expenses incurred as a consequence of the surrogacy, 

·      the need for a closed register of surrogates and intended parents, to be administered by a Government body, access to which may be granted following background checks, and medical and psychological screening, and 

·      whether States and Territories should keep standardised statistical information on families formed through surrogacy to enable long- term studies of surrogacy's effect on families. 

Recommendation 4 
The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General request that the Australian Law Reform Commission consider the issue of birth certificates as part of its inquiry as set out in Recommendation 3. In particular, the ALRC should consider whether a child's birth certificate should contain information on all gestational, genetic and intended parents, including a record that the child was born as a result of a surrogacy arrangement 

Recommendation 5  The Committee recommends that, within six months of the proposed report of the Australian Law Reform Commission being presented to the Attorney-General, the Attorney-General should request that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) commit to the following actions:
·      consultation with all Australian States and Territories in relation to the proposed model, and 

·      the development of national uniform legislation on altruistic surrogacy to be implemented in all Australian States and Territories. 
The Committee considers that the deliberations by COAG should not exceed 12 months.

Recommendation 6 
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government develop a website that provides advice and information for Australians considering domestic altruistic surrogacy. The website should include: 

·      clear advice on the role of Australian Government support and service provision for intended parents, surrogates and children including Medicare, social security & welfare payments, child support, paid parental leave, 

·      clear advice on surrogacy legislation in each Australian State and  Territory, and 

·       clear advice on the support and services funded and provided for by each Australian State and Territory including relevant health, counselling and legal services available.
Recommendation 7 
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish an interdepartmental taskforce (which should include eminent jurists with relevant expertise) to report in 12 months on ways to address the situation of Australians who choose enter into offshore surrogacy arrangements, with respect to:
·      protecting the rights of the child, particularly their rights to be free from exploitation, to know their genetic heritage, to know the circumstances of their birth, and to have an ongoing relationship with their birth mother and any siblings or genetic donor/s, 

·      ensuring birth mothers give their free and informed consent and reducing the likelihood that they face exploitation,
·      ensuring that Australians who enter into offshore surrogacy arrangements meet their responsibility to act in the best interest of all of their children, and 

·      considering whether it should be unlawful to engage in offshore surrogacy in any overseas jurisdiction where commercial surrogacy is prohibited. 
While not condoning Australians' use of offshore surrogacy, the aim of the taskforce should be to ensure that where the regulatory, economic or social conditions in a particular jurisdiction give rise to an increased risk of exploitation or rights violations, Australians entering into or facilitating surrogacy arrangements in that jurisdiction are made aware of those risks, and are subject to a more stringent investigative process to ensure that the rights of the birth mother and the child have not been infringed. 

Recommendation 8 
The Committee recommends that the interdepartmental taskforce should undertake a systematic audit of surrogacy destination countries to assess the extent to which surrogacy practices in these countries meet the requirements laid out in recommendation 3. The Committee considers that this audit will assist in informing the Australian Government’s response to the Australians who choose to enter into offshore surrogacy arrangements. 

Recommendation 9 
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce legislation to amend the Migration Act 1958 such that Australian residents seeking a passport for a young child to return to Australia are subject to screening by Department of Immigration and Border Protection officials to determine whether they have breached Australian or international surrogacy laws while outside Australia, and that, where the Department is satisfied that breaches have occurred, the Minister for Immigration is given the authority to make determinations in the best interests of the child, including in relation to the custody of the child. 

Recommendation 10 
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in its representations to the Experts' Group on Parentage/Surrogacy at the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law should prioritise:
·      the rights of the child, particularly their right to know their genetic heritage, to know the circumstances of their birth, and to have ongoing relationships with their birth mother and any siblings or genetic donor/s,
·      the rights of surrogate mothers to be free from exploitation, and to only engage in surrogacy arrangements to which they give their free and free informed consent, and 

·      the development of an international convention dealing with the regulation of parentage and surrogacy.