Originally published on Advocate.com September 05 2003 12:00 AM ET
The United Nations has accused Australia of a human rights violation after discovering that the country refused to grant a pension to the surviving partner of a gay war veteran, Agence France-Presse reports. The U.N. Human Rights Commission ruled earlier this week that the Australian government discriminated against Edward Young, whose partner of 38 years, Larry Cains, served in Borneo during World War II. Cains died of heart problems in 1998. Australian law permits partners of war veterans to claim a pension, but the Department of Veterans' Affairs refused one for Young, saying only married or heterosexual long-term partners were eligible. Young took his case to the U.N. in 1999. "I started this action because of discrimination before the law, and I firmly believe that anyone who lives in Australia or is an Australian must be treated with equality before the law, no matter what their sexual orientation is," he said. The U.N. has given Australia 90 days to respond. A Veterans' Affairs spokeswoman told AFP the government takes "its human rights obligations very seriously" and is considering its position.
Wayne Morgan, a law academic at the Australian National University, said the case bears ramifications for Australian law. He said superannuation, tax, and social security laws as well as those governing the armed forces define a "couple" as those who were married or long-term heterosexual partners. "The U.N.'s decision clearly means that all such definitions breach the human rights of same-sex couples, and the government is now under an obligation to amend all these laws," he said. Prime Minister John Howard made his position clear on same-sex unions last month when the issue was raised by the Vatican. He said marriage is a bedrock institution designed around children and "providing for the survival of the species. And I think if the same status is given in our society to gay unions...we will weaken that bedrock institution."