With same-sex marriage now legalised in many countries around the world, it is a big surprise that Australia has not yet made the same decision. For a nation that celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, why is Australia so behind on marriage equality? With the LGBT community having most of the same rights as straight people, why is there a block from the government when it comes to marriage? Australia recognises same-sex de facto relationships, hosts one of the biggest parades to celebrate the LGBT community, is a massive fan of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and has many LGBT icons such as world famous Kylie Minogue; so why?
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The Parliament of Australia recognises that the legal treatment regarding the right to marry is significantly different between same-sex and heterosexual relationships in Australia and that there has been a shift in community and political opinion regarding the issue, even though same-sex marriage has been and remains controversial, and the matter is likely to be on the new Parliament’s agenda. The 43rd Parliament had a focus on the marriage equality issue, with three Bills designed to amend the Marriage Act 1961, which would allow all people to marry, regardless of their gender, while also removing the injunction on same-sex marriages observed in foreign countries. These Bills, however, were not passed by Parliament after being subjected to two parliamentary committee inquiries.
The debate on marriage equality in Australia has very opposing views from different government parties, with some very much for marriage equality, and others completely opposed to it. Labor senate leader Penny Wong who, in a same-sex relationship herself, described the report as a significant moment in the debate, told parliament, “We must now, together, take the next steps, to work together, to compromise, to end this debate and to achieve what is the will of the overwhelming majority of the Australian people”.
On the other end of the spectrum, Liberal senator David Fawcett had a different view, stating that legalising same-sex marriage is a complex legal task, “If Australia is to remain a plural and tolerant society, where different views are valued and legal, legislators must recognise that this change will require careful, simultaneous consideration of a wide range of specialist areas of law, as opposed to the common perception that it involves changing just a few words in one act in parliament”.
Opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage is varied across organisations and individuals. Parliament has received submissions by these organisations and individuals regarding their propositions to the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill.
There is a wide array of opinions and suggestions regarding this matter, but it is clear from the statistics on Australians’ views on marriage equality that a majority of Australians support marriage equality and believe the laws should be changed.
DIY Rainbow founder and Director of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, James Brechney, believes that it is fear that drives opposition to marriage equality. James founded DIY Rainbow after he chalked a ‘rainbow crossing’ behind his home in protest of the removal of the Sydney Rainbow Crossing and encouraged others to do so. This started a movement with 1000s of rainbow chalk drawings being seen all over the world. He was elected to the Board of Directors of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2014 and has run floats in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 parades, as well as hosting a number of LGBT events.
James believes that laws that limit marriage to heterosexuals affect LGBTQI people as a class system is created when a government institution provides exclusivity to one class of people over another. He says: “there are hundreds, if not thousands of LGBTQI people in Australia now travelling overseas to get married and I find that a very sad thing indeed. Australia prides itself on egalitarianism yet is failing miserably on this issue”.
With the LGBTQI community having most of the same rights as straight people, it is still a wonder why Australia is still so behind when it comes to marriage equality. James says that even though the community has the same rights are heterosexuals in many ways, it is not reflected in media or parliament, “10% of the population is likely to be gay – where are our role models? Are 10% of our Parliamentarians gay? No, so there’s a bias going on. The last few decades have been about creating acceptance, decriminalising homosexuality and sodomy. In Australia under Julia Gillard, de facto relationships were given nearly as much rights as marriage, which was a great start to equality. Marriage Equality itself won’t be the end of discrimination for the LGBTQI community nor the end of rights that are needed, but it is a huge piece of the puzzle.”
The issue of marriage equality is one that has been back and forth in not only our parliament, but in every day conversations between regular Australians. The issue has been going on for a lengthy period of time with no apparent result as yet. What will it take for the Australian Parliament to start making changes that reflect the needs of such a large community? As James states, “Australia used to be the leader of the pack when it came to many legal reforms around rights (women’s suffrage for example) and I hope this isn’t the beginning of us becoming backwards, and the last to make changes for progress.” Australia needs to review its laws to reflect the times we are in before it becomes a nation that has fallen back into the stone age.