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Tasmania: "Bigots' Island" now championing gay rights

Twenty years after being dubbed "Bigots' Island," Tasmania is shaking off its reputation as a bastion of conservatism so successfully that it now seems more like Progressive Central. It looks set to be the first place in Australia to legalize same-sex marriage, and is considering a whole range of reforms that will make it one of the most liberal places on Earth.

The island state off mainland Australia was one of the last places in the Western world to decriminalize homosexuality. Mass rallies in the 1990s against repeal of the sodomy laws resounded to chants of "Kill them, kill them", and some politicians called for gay men to be whipped.

Last week, though, as the Australian federal parliament dashed hopes of a vote on the issue, gay rights activists in Tasmania expressed optimism that same-sex marriage would be legalized there before the end of this year. Last September, legislation was defeated in the state's upper house by just two votes.

Long regarded as a social backwater, Australia's southern-most state has blazed a progressive trail in recent times. A Bill to legalise euthanasia is expected to be introduced later this year. Sow stalls have been banned by the Labor-Green government, and battery-hen farming is being phased out – both firsts for Australia. There is even debate about banning smoking for people born after 2000. Tasmania, which finally decriminalised homosexuality in 1997, has also led the rest of the country in atoning for past treatment of Aboriginal Australians. Five years before the then PM, Kevin Rudd, delivered a national apology, the state apologized to the "Stolen Generations" of mixed-race children forcibly removed from their families. Its government is the only one in Australia to have paid compensation.

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