Father Paul Kelly started campaigning eight years ago to have the 'gay panic' defence removed from Queensland legislation after a man was bashed to death in a Maryborough church yard.
Father Paul Kelly started campaigning eight years ago to have the 'gay panic' defence removed from Queensland legislation after a man was bashed to death in a Maryborough church yard. Robyne Cuerel

Priest's fight to scrap 'gay panic' law may soon be won

EIGHT years and almost 300,000 signatures from across the globe later, former Maryborough priest Father Paul Kelly may finally see the day the "gay panic" defence is axed in Queensland after his life was changed forever by a violent killing.


Fr Kelly's campaign started after a man was bashed to death in the grounds of a Maryborough church:

Fr Kelly, now a parish priest on the Gold Coast, campaigned for an amendment to section 304 (Killing on provocation) of Queensland's Criminal Code, after Wayne Robert Ruks was bashed to death by two men in the grounds of St Mary's Catholic Church in 2008.

Fr Kelly said he would never forget the phone call he received from police while on his way back to his church that night.

"I was the parish priest in Maryborough at the time it all happened - I think it was life-changing," Fr Kelly said.

"I was away the on the night the murder happened, I was at Gympie when police rang and said 'the church is now a crime scene, a body's been found dead'.

"It was the longest drive back I've ever experienced, I was thinking 'who's dead? What happened?'"

Because the attack occurred on the property he was responsible for, Fr Kelly found himself closer than he'd ever hoped to a violent death.

"When the body was taken away, I had to hose down that area further, it was awful, the police did a very good job of cleaning everything up, but you just had to go over it again," Fr Kelly said.

"I thought 'I can't believe a human life has ended here', he was left there all night on a cold July night until he was found dead around 8am the next morning."


As the matter went through court, the charges were dropped from murder to manslaughter:

Jason Andrew Pearce and Richard John Meerdink were charged with the murder of Wayne Robert Ruks not long after the incident, but the charges were dropped to manslaughter, after it was mentioned in court that Ruks had allegedly tried to grab the crotch of one of the defendants.

Pearce was released on parole in 2012, four years into his nine-year sentence, and Meerdink will be eligible for parole this year.

Fr Kelly followed the case closely, and stated while it could not be said for sure if the comment about Ruk's suggested sexual advance had been the reason why the charges were softened, he vowed to take the defence option off the table completely.

"The attackers were the only ones who were there in my church grounds, but the attacker said something (in court) that wasn't correct; even if he did touch him, it doesn't justify what happened," he said.

"How I operate is I ask a lot of questions, talk to people, get responses and if it doesn't make sense,  I think 'this is bugging me'.

"I started a petition, I was going to do old-fashioned paper one, but someone suggested I'd go online, it got 300,000 signatures I think, I've lost count."

A total of 287,450 supporters electronically signed the petition to change the law in Queensland.


Almost a decade later, the State Government is now acting on wishes of the community:

On Tuesday, Queensland Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Minister for Training and Skills Yvette d'Arth tabled a separate petition, doning more than 400 signatures, requesting a legislative amendment to section 304 (Killing on provocation) of Queensland's Criminal Code.

Ms d'Arth highlighted her push to have the law changed by the end of the year.

"Amendments to criminal defences, like section 304, are especially complex and technical. Accordingly, in May 2016 I commenced consultation with key legal stakeholders on a draft of the proposed amendment to ensure the proposal achieves this important reform," Ms d'Arth said in her tabled paper.

"Both past and present Queensland Labor Governments have demonstrated significant commitment to addressing the issue of the use of an unwanted sexual advance establishing a partial defence to murder."


Priest says there is still a long way to go to achieve equal rights for the LGBTIQA+ community:

Fr Kelly said this was the outcome he was hoping for, although he had hoped for it a lot sooner.

"The fact that it's taken eight years, proves to me there is still a hang up about homosexuals in society," he said.

"The fact that for this particular group of people it takes eight years for a change to be made, whereas for another group it would take over night.

"It shouldn't have needed 300,000 people to say this is wrong, it should have taken one person, and they (the Queensland Government) still took their time, it makes me think there's still a long way to go."