9 September 2006

VUWLR: "'I’m Not Gay – Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That!': Are Unwanted Imputations of Gayness Defamatory?"

As I've mentioned previously, one of the truly great delights of the academy is the publication your scholarly writing. I'm therefore very proud to have had another article published: > Dean R Knight,"'I’m Not Gay – Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That!': Are Unwanted Imputations of Gayness Defamatory?" (2006) 37 VUWLR 249 This particular issue was especially significant because it was part of a broader endeavour. Elisabeth McDonald and I (well, really, Elisabeth - with me tagging along) organised the Sexuality and Citizenship Symposium at the Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington and the result of that symposium is a special issue of Victoria University of Wellington Law Review. The special issue is a collection of articles addressing contemporary issues about sexuality and citizenship within our society and legal system:
  • Graeme W Austin, "Family Law and Civil Union Partnerships – Status, Contract and Access to Symbols"
  • Edward Clark, "The Construction of Homosexuality in New Zealand Judicial Writing"
  • Elisabeth McDonald, "No Straight Answer: Homophobia as Both an Aggravating and Mitigating Factor in New Zealand Homicide Cases"
  • Dean R Knight,"'I'm Not Gay – Not That There's Anything Wrong with That!': Are Unwanted Imputations of Gayness Defamatory?"
  • Nan Seuffert, "Sexual Citizenship and the Civil Union Act 2004"
  • Paula D Baron, "In the Name of the Father: the Paternal Function, Sexuality, Law and Citizenship".
  • Ngaire Naffine - our guest commentor for the symposium - introduces the issue in her commentary, "The Sexual Citizen".

    The issue was launched on Thursday night at a function at the Law School. Below are the remarks I made on behalf of Elisabeth and myself:

    "Sexuality matters. Even in today's modern liberal society, sexuality is important. The treatment of the sexual citizen by our legal framework and institutions continues to be a crucial litmus test for the dignity of our society. Even if one maintains the view that sexuality should be irrelevant in matters of citizenship, civic participation and day-to-day living, this still presupposes equal treatment for all sexual citizens. Sexual citizenship and the treatment of sexuality arises across the legal framework. We are delighted that articles in this issue reflect that by addressing the issue of sexual citizenship in the areas of the family law, relationship recognition, crime and victims of crime, private tort law, and the language of law within our Parliament and judiciary. Critical queer legal scholarship or legal scholarship on sexuality is not easy scholarship to undertake. In New Zealand there has not been a strong tradition of this type of scholarship. Internationally we hear stories from our colleagues about the nervousness associated with this type the scholarship such as questions about the impact on tenure. Even in New Zealand's present PBRF environment, it is easy to doubt how this scholarship might be received or how it might fit into a "research platform" alongside black letter law. It takes some courage to engage in this type of scholarship. That brings me to the symposium held last year that formed the foundation for the special issue. The bringing together of legal scholars provided strength and a desire for boldness that enhanced the scholarship that forms part of the special issue. On behalf of Elizabeth and myself, thanks to Eddie, Nan, Paula, and Graeme (in absentia) for participating in the symposium. Thanks also to Ngaire, who as guest commentator managed to weave our different threads together to make a coherent whole. And on behalf of the participants, thanks to Elizabeth for making the symposium and special issue happen – the symposium and special issue have really been Elizabeth's "baby". And some other thanks. Particular thanks to Judge Ian Borrin for his financial support of the symposium and special issue through his endowment fund. And thanks also to the Victoria University of Wellington Law Review and its editorial committee for its support throughout. Thanks to Will Thomson, Student Editor-in-Chief and his team a student editors for the expertise in correcting our various typos and grammar and their patience throughout. And finally thanks to those of you that are here to share in the celebrations today. Tt is delightful to have representatives from the wider queer and sexuality-focused academic, political, social communities, as well as many others who are here today and stand with us in saying ... sexuality matters. To close, I wish to read the quotation from the front-piece of the special issue which is taken from the recent maiden speech to Parliament of Maryan Street MP: 'Only a cringing, unassertive democracy retains its power by excluding others and stripping them of their place in it. As a lesbian, I have been the subject of other people's efforts to push me to the margins, to erode my legitimacy as a citizen, and to belittle my efforts and achievements. I have never accepted marginalisation; it is a construct of others who wish me to be marginalised.'"

    1 comment:

    David Farrar said...

    Very interesting read. I've always thought that any "lowering of opinion" comes from the suggestion that the person concerned is decieiving people by pretending to be someone they are not, and are "false". So not defamatory if the person has never portrayed themselves as happily married etc.

    The other issue might be commercial brand for a celebrity. If you are the teenage heart throb of millions of teenage girls, an allegation that you don't like girls could significantly harm your earning power.

    Course Outline

    Lord Justice Lawton in Maxwell v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] 2 All ER 122 said:

    "From time to time ... lawyers and judges have tried to define what constitutes fairness. Like defining an elephant, it is not easy to do, although fairness in practice has the elephantine quality of being easy to recognise. As a result of these efforts a word in common usage has acquired the trappings of legalism: 'acting fairly' has become 'acting in accordance with the rules of natural justice', and on occasion has been dressed up with Latin tags. This phrase in my opinion serves no useful purpose and in recent years it has encouraged lawyers to try to put those who hold inquiries into legal straitjackets.... For the purposes of my judgment I intend to ask myself this simple question: did the [decision-maker] act fairly towards the plaintiff?"

    This course examines the elephantine concept of fairness in the law, along with other contemporary legal issues.

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