LGBT rights in Australia

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LGBT rights in Australia
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal nationwide since December 1994[1][2]
Gender identity/expression Legal
Military service Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly since 1992
Discrimination protections Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013[3]
Family rights
Recognition of
De facto unions under federal law

Civil Unions in ACT

Civil Partnerships in QLD

Domestic partnerships in NSW, VIC, TAS, SA

Unregistered de facto unions in WA, NT
Same-sex marriage expressly prohibited by federal law since 2004; see Recognition of same-sex unions in Australia
Adoption Yes in TAS, ACT, NSW, WA and VIC
No in NT, SA and QLD

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Australia have gradually progressed since the late-20th century, to the point where anti-discrimination laws protect LGBT people in many areas of employment and service access, and same sex couples enjoy many of the same rights and benefits as non-same sex couples – with the notable exception of marriage.[4][5]

Australia is a federation, with many of its laws with respect to LGBT and intersex rights made by its states and territories. Several jurisdictions began granting domestic partnership benefits and civil unions to same-sex couples during the mid-2000's, with federal law recognising same-sex couples as de facto unions. Same-sex marriage legislation has been proposed to the Commonwealth Parliament multiple times, but has been rejected on all occasions. Marriage is defined by federal law as the union of a man and woman. The Australian Capital Territory's attempt to legalise same-sex marriage[6] was struck down by the High Court of Australia on the grounds that only the federal parliament has the constitutional and legal authority to do so.[7] Same-sex adoption varies across each state and territory, with a slight majority of states allowing both joint and step adoption whilst others have not legislated for same-sex adoption altogether. Discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression are strongly protected in each state and territory, and federal protection laws have been in place since 1 August 2013.

Transgender Australians are able to change their legal gender in all states and territories and are recognised as their gender. The process of changing legal gender can come with legal and surgical boundaries, as is the case in New South Wales.[8] Androgynous and genderqueer Australians are legally able to register their gender as 'non-specific' on personal legal documents related to sex.

Australia has been referred to by publications as one of the most gay friendly countries in the world, with recent polls indicating that a majority of Australians support same-sex marriage.[9] In a 2013 poll conducted by Pew Research, 79% of Australians agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, making it the fifth most supportive country in the survey behind Spain (88%), Germany (87%), Canada and Czech Republic (both 80%).[10][11] Because of its long history in regard to LGBT rights and its annual three-week-long Mardi Gras festival, Sydney has been named one of the most gay friendly cities in the country and in the world.[12]


The term LGBTI is now used in Australia, rather than LGBT, with the I denoting intersex people. Organisations that include intersex people as well as LGBT people include the National LGBTI Health Alliance and community media.[13][14] Also used are the more-inclusive terms LGBTQI[15] and LGBTQIA, with the A including Asexual people.[16]

Same-sex sexual activity laws[edit]

Upon colonisation in 1788, Australia inherited laws from the United Kingdom including the Buggery Act of 1533. These were retained in the criminal codes passed by the various colonial parliaments during the 19th century, and by the state parliaments after Federation.[citation needed] Same-sex sexual activity between men was considered a capital crime, resulting in the execution of convicted sodomites. The death penalty for convicted sodomites was reduced to life imprisonment in 1899, though Victoria had the death penalty for sodomy on the books until 1949. During the mid to late-20th century, states and territories slowly began repealing their sodomy laws as awareness surrounding homosexuality began to spread. State sodomy laws were repealed on the following dates:[17]

Age of consent[edit]

The age of consent laws of all states and territories of Australia apply equally regardless of the gender and sexual orientation of participants. The age of consent in all states, territories and on the federal level is 16, except for Tasmania and South Australia where it is 17.[18] Until recently, the age of consent in Queensland was 16 for vaginal and oral sex, though 18 for anal sex for everyone. In September 2016, the Queensland Parliament passed new laws equalising the age of consent for anal sex to 16 years of age.[18][19]Legislation lowering the age of consent for anal sex to 16 was signed into law 23 September 2016.[20]

Historical conviction expungement[edit]

Four of the eight Australian jurisdictions allow those convicted of historical consensual adult gay male same-sex sexual activity to apply for the conviction to be expunged. After a conviction is expunged the individual can claim not to have been convicted or found guilty of that offence, ensuring they will not be required to disclose such information and that the conviction does not show up on a police records check.[21] Without the law, men who had been convicted of historical sodomy offences were at a disadvantage, including being subject to restrictions on travel and in applying for some jobs.[22][23]

The dates when these laws took effect were as follows:

An expungement scheme also operates in Norfolk Island, where NSW laws apply.

Sex and gender recognition[edit]

Birth certificates and driver licences are within the jurisdiction of the states, whereas marriage and passports are matters for the Commonwealth. The requirements for a person's change of sex to be recognised and amended in government records and official documents depend on the jurisdiction.[31] The Australian Human Rights Commission has suggested that of the current considerations, such as a person's marital status or level of medical treatment, should be irrelevant to the recognition of a person's sex or gender identity.[31][32]

Birth certificates[edit]

Birth certificates are issued by States and Territories. In many States, sterilisation is (or has been) required for trans people to obtain recognition of their preferred gender in cardinal identification documents, although the High Court ruled in the 2012 case of AB v Western Australia that two transgender men who had undergone mastectomies and hormone treatment did not need to undergo sterilisation to obtain a WA gender recognition certificate.[33] For example, New South Wales Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages requires that trans people must have "undergone a sex affirmation procedure"[8] In 2014, the Australian Capital Territory also passed legislation that removed the surgery requirement for changing the sex arker on birth certificates.[34]

Organisation Intersex International Australia asserts that identification changes are managed differently for intersex people who wish to change documentation. They describe this as an administrative correction.[35]

Non-binary gender recognition[edit]

Norrie May-Welby is a Scottish-Australian who became the first transsexual person in Australia to publicly pursue a legal status of neither a man nor a woman. That status was subject to appeals by the State of New South Wales.[36]

In April 2014, the High Court of Australia unanimously ruled in a case titled NSW Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages v Norrie [2014] HCA 11[37][38] that, having undergone sex affirmation surgery, androgynous person Norrie was to be registered as neither a man nor a woman with the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.[39] The decision follows previous regulations and legislation that recognises a third gender classification, and establishes that Australia's legal system recognises and permits the gender registration of 'non-specific', as the judges found in the Norrie case.[39]


Commonwealth guidelines issued in May 2013, and taking effect from 1 July 2013, enable any adult to choose to identify as male, female or X. Documentary evidence must be witnessed by a doctor or psychologist, but medical intervention is not required.[40]

Alex MacFarlane was reported as receiving a passport with an 'X' sex descriptor in early 2003. This was stated by the West Australian to be on the basis of a challenge by MacFarlane, using an indeterminate birth certificate issued by the State of Victoria.[41][42][43] It is stated on Councillor Tony Briffa's website that "my birth certificate is silent as to my sex".[44][45] having previously been acknowledged as the world's first openly intersex mayor.[46][47]

Australian government policy between 2003 and 2011 was to issue passports with an 'X' marker only to people who could "present a birth certificate that notes their sex as indeterminate"[48][49]

In 2011, the Australian Passport Office introduced new guidelines for issuing of passports with a new gender, and broadened availability of an X descriptor to all individuals with documented "indeterminate" sex.[50][51] The revised policy stated that "sex reassignment surgery is not a prerequisite to issue a passport in a new gender. Birth or citizenship certificates do not need to be amended."[52]

Medical involvement[edit]

Transgender people currently require treatment and support by medical professionals if they wish to change their gender on official government documents. For example, changing a person's gender on a passport requires a doctor's note confirming that the individual is undergoing appropriate medical treatment. The Australian Human Rights Commission has recommended that people should be able to change their sex on government documents through simple administrative procedures, with no medical involvement required.[32]

Medical treatment for transgender people[edit]

Children with gender dysphoria[edit]

Medical treatment is available to a child who has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.[53] A diagnosis requires that the child feels and verbalises a strong desire to have a different gender for at least six months.[54]

Medical treatment for children with gender dysphoria can be divided into two stages:[54]

Transgender Australians are generally not eligible for surgery until they turn 18 years old.[55]

A number of requirements must be satisfied in order for a transgender child to receive treatment. Stage 1 treatment in Australia is provided in accordance with the Endocrine Society's Clinical Practice Guideline "Endocrine Treatment of Transsexual Persons"[56] and involves:[53][55]

  • a standardised assessment of psychological development by two independent child and adolescent psychiatrists
  • a formal assessment of the child’s gender identification and capacity to understand the proposed treatment
  • an assessment by a paediatric endocrinologist to establish the child’s pubertal stage and exclude disorders of sex development
  • discussions between the paediatric endocrinologist, the child and their parents about the effects and risks of blocking puberty
  • (if there is any disagreement between the child, a parent or the medical practitioner about the treatment) legal authorisation from the Family Court of Australia

Access to Stage 2 treatment requires the following:[53]

  • consensus among a team of medical practitioners (a paediatrician, two mental health professionals of whom at least one must be a psychiatrist and a fertility expert) that the treatment is in the best interests of the child
  • legal authorisation from the Family Court of Australia

Involvement of the Family Court of Australia[edit]

In the 2004 case Re Alex[57] the Family Court of Australia held that both Stage 1 and Stage 2 treatments for gender dysphoria were non-therapeutic "special medical procedures" for the purposes of the Family Law Act 1975, which meant that even if a child's parents consented, the Family Court's approval was necessary to ensure the child's welfare was protected. This was based on the principles of Marion's Case, in which the High Court of Australia ruled that parental consent was insufficient for "special medical procedures", and instead court approval was necessary to ensure they were in the best interests of the child.[58] Since that time, the Family Court has heard an increasing number of applications for child gender dysphoria treatment.[54]

This approach was relaxed in several 2013 cases,[59][60] which were approved by the Full Court of the Family Court in Re Jamie.[61] In these cases, the judges accepted that the medical treatments were therapeutic in nature and that parents could consent to Stage 1 treatment for their child without court oversight.[54] Court approval would only be necessary for Stage 1 treatment if there was a disagreement between the child, their parents or the treating doctors about the treatment.[62]

Before transgender children can access Stage 2 treatment, the Family Court of Australia must assess their Gillick competence; in other words, whether the child is in a position to consent to the treatment by fully understanding its nature, effects and risks.[63] If the Court finds the child is Gillick-competent, the child's wishes must be respected. If not, the Court must then decide whether the proposed treatment is in the child's best interests.[64]

Australia is the only country in the world which requires court involvement in the process.[65] Several families with transgender children have called for the Family Court's involvement to be abolished, given that the legal process simply "rubber stamps" the expert opinions of medical practitioners and imposes significant financial and emotional costs on applicants.[63] The legal process cost about $30,000 in 2016.[63] Opponents of the current system also point to reports that some transgender teenagers have risked sourcing cross-sex hormones on the black market due to the cost and delays caused by the court process.[65]

In 2016, Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant acknowledged the difficulties of the existing process and promised it would be simplified.[66] Bryant had suggested in 2014 that the High Court of Australia might want to reconsider the case law requiring court involvement in the treatment of transgender adolescents.[67]

Intersex rights[edit]

Relationship to LGBT rights[edit]

Although Australian terminology has expanded from "LGBT" to "LGBTI" to include intersex people, their experience remain poorly understood in the absence of substantial research in the area.[68] Intersex status was previously considered a subset of gender identity, as reflected in the anti-discrimination law definitions of most states and territories of "gender identity" to include people with indeterminate sexual characteristics[69][70] Organisation Intersex International Australia considers this inaccurate on the basis that "intersex" people may have any of 40 diverse physical sex characteristics, and may have a wide range of gender identities, similar to non-intersex people.[70]

Coerced medical intervention[edit]

A key area of concern facing intersex people is that as infants they are often operated on doctors to "normalise" their genitalia and obscure their non-binary sex characteristics.[71] These operations are criticised by intersex advocates on the basis that they compromise the individual rights to bodily autonomy, integrity and dignity, drawing parallels to female genital mutilation.[68][72]

In October 2013, the Australian Senate published a report entitled 'Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia'. The Senate found that "normalising" surgeries are taking place in Australia, often on infants and young children.[73][74][75][76][77] They commented, "normalisation surgery is more than physical reconstruction. The surgery is intended to deconstruct an intersex physiology and, in turn, construct an identity that conforms with stereotypical male and female gender categories" and, "Enormous effort has gone into assigning and ‘normalising’ sex: none has gone into asking whether this is necessary or beneficial. Given the extremely complex and risky medical treatments that are sometimes involved, this appears extremely unfortunate".[73] The report makes 15 recommendations, including ending cosmetic genital surgeries on infants and children and providing for legal oversight of individual cases.[73] The president of Organisation Intersex International Australia states that "The Senate Committee has changed the debate on the correct treatment of intersex differences. If adopted, its recommendations will effectively protect the rights of intersex children and future adults."[78]

On 11 November 2014, the New South Wales Legislative Council in Australia passed a motion recognising stigma and human rights abuses, and calling on that State government to "work with the Australian Government to implement the recommendations" of the 2013 Senate committee report.[79][80]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Federal recognition[edit]

Australia recognises same-sex relationships - including same-sex couples married in foreign jurisdictions or sub-jurisdictions - as de facto unions. Following the Australian Human Rights Commission's report Same-Sex: Same Entitlements[81] and an audit of Commonwealth legislation, in 2009 the Australian Government introduced several reforms designed to equalise treatment for same-sex couples and same-sex couple families. The reforms amended 85 Commonwealth laws to eliminate discrimination against same-sex couples and their children in a wide range of areas. The reforms came in the form of two pieces of legislation, the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws-General Law Reform) Act 2008 and the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws-Superannuation) Act 2008.[82] These laws amended several other existing Commonwealth Acts to equalise treatment for same-sex couples and any children such couples may be raising with respect to the following areas:

  • Taxation
  • Superannuation
  • Health Insurance
  • Social Security
  • Aged care and child support
  • Immigration
  • Citizenship
  • Veterans' Affairs

For instance, with relation to social security and general family law, same-sex couples were not previously recognised as a couple for social security or family assistance purposes. A person who had a same-sex de facto partner was treated as a single person. The reforms ensured that same-sex couples were (for the first time under Australian law) recognised as a couple akin to opposite-sex partners. Consequently, a same-sex couple receives the same rate of social security and family assistance payments as an opposite-sex couple.[82] Such reforms however, do not completely equalise treatment for same-sex couples, who for instance, do not have the same rights and entitlements as married heterosexual couples do with respect to workers' compensation death benefits, pensions for the partners of Defence Force veterans and access to carer's leave.[83] Despite large equality of rights, Australia does not have a national registered partnership, civil union or same-sex relationship scheme.

From 1 July 2009 amendments to the Social Security Act 1991 meant that customers in a same-sex de facto relationship are recognised as partnered for Centrelink and Family Assistance Office purposes. All customers who are assessed as being a member of a couple have their rate of payment calculated in the same way.[84]

State and territory recognition[edit]

Most states and territories in Australia have civil union or domestic partnership laws, aside from Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Of the States that do have domestic partnerships, South Australia is the only one that lacks legislation for domestic partnership registries.

Same-sex couples may enter into civil unions in the Australian Capital Territory and civil partnerships in Queensland. Both unions allow couples to have state-sanctioned ceremonies and Queensland's law is commonly referred to as civil unions. In New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria, same-sex couples can enter into domestic registered partnerships. These provide conclusive proof of the existence of the relationship, thereby gaining the same rights afforded to de facto couples under state and federal law without having to prove any further factual evidence of the relationship. In this way, a registered relationship is similar to a registered partnership or civil union in other parts of the world.[85] South Australia also allows domestic registered partnerships, though they must prove their relationship through a legal agreement known as a Domestic Partnership Agreement, a slightly more cumbersome process than in the other states. In Western Australia and the Northern Territory, same-sex couples must often seek juridical approval to prove a de facto relationship exists. Norfolk Island from 1 July 2016, have been incorporated into NSW legislation, under both the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015 and the Territories Legislation Amendment Act 2016.[86][87][88]

As of December 2015, four Australian states (Tasmania, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria), comprising 80% of Australia's population, recognise same-sex marriages and civil partnerships performed overseas, providing automatic recognition of such unions in their respective state registers.[89]

State/Territory Official relationship status Anti-discrimination legislation Pending legislation
ACT Yes Civil Unions Yes -
New South Wales Yes Domestic Partnership (Registry) Yes -
Queensland Yes Civil Partnerships Yes -
South Australia Yes Domestic Partnership (Agreement - No Registry) Yes -
Tasmania Yes Domestic Partnership (Registry) Yes -
Victoria Yes Domestic Partnership (Registry) Yes -
Northern Territory Defined as 'De facto', no registry Yes -
Western Australia Defined as 'De facto', no registry Yes -

† Including Norfolk Island, where NSW laws apply

A general note about state same-sex marriage bills:
In December 2013, the Australian Capital Territory's Same Sex Marriage legislation was declared unconstitutional by the High Court of Australia due to inconsistency with the federal Marriage Act 1961. This may mean that the state parliaments do not have the legal capacity to legislate for same-sex marriage, even if they wanted to.[90]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

As a result of the Howard Government's amendment to the Marriage Act 1961 in 2004, federal law in Australia officially bans same-sex marriage.[91] Recent attempts to legalise same-sex marriage nationwide have failed in the Australian Parliament.[92] The current Turnbull Government has a policy opposing same-sex marriage though proposing a plebiscite on the issue be held sometime after the 2016 federal election. The opposition Australian Labor Party supports same-sex marriage in its party platform, though it allows its parliamentary members to exercise their consciences on same-sex marriage legislation.

The Australian Capital Territory passed laws instituting territory-based same-sex marriage, which was rejected by the High Court of Australia. The High Court ruled against the law on 12 December 2013 contending that only federal parliament has the constitutional authority to legislate on the subject.[93]

The High Court ruled in December 2013 that the Australian Capital Territory's same-sex marriage law was invalid, as s51(xxi) grants the Commonwealth Parliament the power to legislate with regard to marriage, and the federal definition of marriage overrides any state or territory definition under s109. The court did find, however, that "marriage" for the purposes of s51(xxi) includes same-sex marriage, thus clarifying that there is no constitutional impediment to the Commonwealth legislating for same-sex marriage in the future.[94]

Immigration and sponsorship[edit]

In 1985, changes were made to the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), after submissions from the Gay and Lesbian Immigration Task Force (GLITF), to create an interdependency visa for same-sex couples. The visa allows Australian citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners into Australia. Unlike married couples, immigration guidelines require de facto and interdependent partners to be able to prove a twelve-month committed relationship, but it can be waived if the couple is registered by the State registrar of births, deaths and marriages. The temporary and permanent visas (Subclasses 310 and 110) allow the applicant to live, work, study and receive Medicare benefits in Australia.[95][96]

Inheritance and property rights[edit]

Without the automatic legal protections that married couples receive under the law with regard to inheriting assets from their partners, same sex couples have had to take specific legal actions. Individuals are not entitled to a partial pension if their same-sex partner dies. Gay and de facto couples who separate did not have the same property rights as married couples under federal law and were required to use more expensive state courts, rather than the Family Court, to resolve disputes. The plan to grant equivalent rights to gays and de factos had been up for discussion since 2002, and all states eventually agreed, but the change was blocked because the Howard government insisted on excluding same-sex couples.[97]

In June 2008, the Rudd Government introduced the Family Law Amendment (De Facto Financial Matters and Other Measures) Bill 2008 to allow same-sex and de facto couples access to the federal Family Court on property and maintenance matters, rather than the state Supreme Court. This reform was not part of the 100 equality measures promised by the Government but stem from a 2002 agreement between the states and territories that the previous Howard Government did not fulfill.[98][99] Coalition amendments to the bill failed and it was passed in November 2008.[100]

Discrimination protections[edit]

Prior to 1 August 2013 Australia did not comprehensively outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation at the federal level. However, in response to Australia's agreement to implement the principle of non-discrimination in employment and occupation pursuant to the International Labour Organisation Convention No.111 (ILO 111), the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) Act established the HREOC in 1986, and empowers it to investigate complaints of discrimination in employment and occupation on various grounds, including sexual orientation, and to resolve such complaints by conciliation. If it cannot be conciliated, the Commission prepares a report to the federal Attorney-General who then tables the report in Parliament. Employment discrimination on the ground of "sexual orientation" is also rendered unlawful in the Fair Work Act 2009, allowing complaints to be made to the Fair Work Ombudsman.[101]

The Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994 provided that sexual conduct involving only consenting adults (18 years or over) acting in private would not be subject to arbitrary interference by law enforcement. This applies to any law of the Commonwealth, State or Territory.[102]

In late 2010, the Gillard Labor Government announced a review of federal anti-discrimination laws, with the aim of introducing a single equality law that would also cover sexual orientation and gender identity.[103] This approach was abandoned and instead on 25 June 2013, the Federal Parliament passed the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013.

From 1 August 2013, discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people became illegal for the first time under national law. Aged care providers who are owned by religious groups will no longer be able to exclude people from aged care services based on their LGBTI or same-sex relationship status. However, religious owned private schools and religious owned hospitals are exempt from gender identity and sexual orientation provisions[104] in the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013.[105] No religious exemptions exist on the basis of intersex status.[104]

Aside from Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws, each of the states and territories have their own laws which protect LGBTI people from discrimination.

Adoption and parenting rights[edit]

States and territories make laws with respect to adoption and child-rearing. The laws with respect to same-sex parenting and adoption rights vary in each state and territory. Same-sex couples can jointly adopt in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria - whilst Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia ban same-sex couples from adopting jointly. The 2011 Australian census counted 6,300 children living in same-sex couple families, up from 3,400 in 2001, make up only one in a thousand of all children in couple families (0.1%).[106] Altruistic surrogacy is legal in all Australian states and territories except Western Australia and South Australia,[107] though commercial surrogacy is banned nationwide. In recent years, a dramatic increase in the use of overseas surrogacy programs has occurred amongst both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, creating some unique legal concerns with respect to citizenship and parenting rights.[108][109][110] It is believed that only 1 in 20 surrogacy arrangements occur in Australia, with almost all involving foreign surrogates mainly from South-East Asia and the United States.[107]

LGBT adoption rights in Australia.
  Joint adoption and stepparent adoption legal
  Stepparent adoption legal
  LGBT Foster parenting only
  Joint adoption and stepparent adoption illegal
State/Territory Same-sex couple joint petition LGBT individual adoption Same-sex stepparent adoption
New South Wales and Norfolk Island No Yes (since 2010) Yes Yes (since 2000) No Yes (since 2010)
ACT Yes Yes (since 2004) Yes Yes (since 1993) Yes Yes (since 2004)
Western Australia Yes Yes (since 2002) Yes Yes Yes Yes (since 2002)
Tasmania Yes Yes (since 2013) Yes Yes Yes Yes (since 2004)
Victoria Yes Yes (since 2016) Yes Yes Yes Yes (since 2007)
Queensland No No Yes Yes (since 2009) No No
Northern Territory No No Only in exceptional circumstances No No
South Australia No No No singles, must only be an opposite-sex couple (married or cohabitating) No No

Social conditions[edit]

Military service[edit]

In early 1992 a female reservist in the Australian Army made a complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission on the basis that she was dismissed on the grounds of homosexuality. The Commission called for a review of the longstanding ban on LGBT personnel in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and in June 1992, Defence Minister Senator Robert Ray instead took the step of strengthening the existing ban on LGBT personnel by including the definition of "unacceptable sexual acts" as inclusive of sexual harassment and offences under civil and military law.[111] This led to significant outrage and in response Prime Minister Paul Keating established a special Labor Caucus Committee to examine the possibility of removing the ban on LGBT personnel in the military. By September 1992 the committee returned with a recommendation to remove the ban four votes to two, including the committee chairman Terry Aulich.[112][113] Despite opposition of reform from within certain military groups and the RSL, this recommendation received support from Human Rights Commissioner Brian Burdekin and Attorney General Michael Duffy.[114] The subsequent cabinet discussion on the issue resulted in the Keating government overturning the ban, despite the opposition of Ray within the cabinet. Following the decision, Prime Minister Keating, who had supported overturning the ban, announced that the decision "reflected community support for the removal of employment discrimination and brings the ADF into line with tolerant attitudes of Australians generally ... The ADF acknowledges there are male and female homosexuals among its members and has advised the Government that these members are no longer actively sought out or disciplined because of their sexual orientation."[115]

Currently the ADF also recognises "interdependent relationships", which include same-sex relationships, regarding benefits available to active duty members. This means equal benefits in housing, moving stipends, education assistance and leave entitlements. To be recognised as interdependent, same-sex partners will have to show they have a "close personal relationship" that involves domestic and financial support.[116] The ADF also gives equal access to superannuation and death benefits for same-sex partnerships.[117] Under the Human Rights Commission Act 1986,[118] Discrimination or harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation, be it heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality, is prohibited. ADF members or APS employees are not to be asked about their sexual orientation, nor is sexual orientation, or alleged sexual orientation, to be adversely taken into consideration in promotion, posting or career development decisions.

The DEFGLIS (Defence Force Gay and Lesbian Information Service) is an unofficial organisation of Regular, Reserve and Civilian members of the Australian Defence Organisation (ADO) who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex and transgender (GLBIT) and allies.

Blood donor ban[edit]

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service bans blood donations from men who have had sex with men (MSM) in the previous twelve months. Several other countries also have MSM bans ranging from one year to lifetime or permanent deferral. The policy was challenged in 2005 with the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal.[119][120] Four years later in May 2009, the tribunal dismissed the complaint saying that it was "unsubstantiated".[121][122]

LGBT rights and religion in Australia[edit]

Religious groups who oppose LGBT rights[edit]

The Australian Christian Lobby, formed in 1995, and the Catholic Australian Family Association, formed in 1980, strongly oppose same-sex rights such as adoption and marriage.

Peter Jensen, former Archbishop of the Evangelical Anglican Diocese of Sydney, has vigorously opposed homosexuality, stating that accepting homosexuality is "calling holy what God called sin."[123] Leaders of the Anglican Church of Australia have called for the removal of the proposed ACT Civil Union legislation, because they "believe this proposal actually threatens and compromises the traditional Christian view of marriage between a man and a woman."[124]

Former Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Church according to George Pell believes and teaches that sexual activity should be confined to married couples, a man and a woman, and opposes all extra-marital sexual activity. The Catholic Church will continue to oppose legitimizing any extra-marital sexual activity, including homosexual activity. It will also continue to oppose homosexual propaganda especially among young people, he states.[125]

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, considered Australia's most important Islamic organisation, came out strongly against removing discrimination against same-sex partners in federal law. Chairman Ikebal Patel said such moves would threaten the "holy relationship" of marriage between a man and woman/a man and several women and the core values of supporting families.[126]

The Salt Shakers is a Christian Ethics Action Group based in Melbourne, Victoria. It includes people from a number of Christian denominations and provides resources to Christians and churches. They also operate in the public arena by consulting, lobbying and presenting a Christian perspective on issues affecting society. This includes sending press releases, giving interviews for current affairs and other programs, making submissions to government, monitoring TV standards. They believe homosexuality is a sin.[127]

The Christian organization Exclusive Brethren ran full page advertisements in various newspapers to criticise Tasmanian Greens' pro-Gay policies such as same-sex marriage, LGBTgay adoption and fostering (something already partially recognized by Tasmanian law) in the lead up to the 2006 Tasmanian State Election.[128]

Gender Matters is a coalition of seventeen groups and organisations formed in October 2008, including the Australian Family Association, the National Alliance for Christian Leaders, Exodus Global Alliance, the Fatherhood Foundation and Salt Shakers, promoting traditional gender roles. Some of their demands include: That marriage be "forever preserved as the voluntary exclusive union of one man and one woman"; That adoption be restricted to heterosexual couples; That IVF and other reproductive technologies are reserved exclusively for heterosexuals; And a ban on same-sex civil unions and registers.[129]

Religious groups who support LGBT rights[edit]

Since 2003, the Uniting Church in Australia has allowed sexually active gay and lesbian people to be ordained as ministers, with each individual presbyteries given discretion to decide the matter on a case-by-case basis.[130]

A number of individual ministers of religion have publicised their support for LGBT rights and same sex marriage without their denomination taking an official position.[131] Father Frank Brennan has published an essay in Eureka Street arguing that while religious institutions should be legally exempt from "any requirement to change their historic position and practice that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman" drawing a distinction between civil law and the Catholic sacrament of marriage, and argued that recognition of civil unions or same sex marriages in civil law may become necessary if the overwhelming majority of the population supported such a change.[132]

The Progressive Jewish community in Australia broadly supports LGBT rights, whereas the Orthodox branches are less accommodating, taking a staunchly conservative approach. On 5 June 2007 the Council of Progressive Rabbis of Australia, New Zealand, and Asia overturned their ban on same-gender commitment ceremonies.[133] Nearly 4 years later, on 19 May 2011 the Rabbinic Council of Progressive Rabbis of Australia, Asia and New Zealand announced their support for marriage equality under Australian law.[134] This news was broadly publicised via a media release issued by Australian Marriage Equality on 25 May 2011.[135]

Summary table[edit]


Federal Same-sex marriage De facto relationships status Registered relationships status Equal age of consent Anti-discrimination legislation Adoption and foster parenting Recognition of parents on birth certificate Access to fertility (such as ART, IVF, surrogacy, AI, etc.) Right to change legal gender
 Australia No (Marriage Amendment Act 2004) Yes (family law) Yes (family law) Yes (covered by state/territory law) Yes (Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013[136]) Yes (family law) Yes (family law) Yes (family law) Yes (covered by state/territory law)


State/Territory Male homosexual acts legalised Expungement scheme implemented Gay panic defence abolished De facto relationships status Registered relationships status Equal age of consent Anti-discrimination legislation Adoption and foster parenting Recognition of parents on birth certificate Access to fertility (such as ART, IVF, surrogacy, AI, etc.) Right to change legal gender
 Australian Capital Territory Yes 1976[137] Yes Yes 2004[137] Yes Yes Yes 1985[137] Yes Yes 2004[137] Yes Yes Yes
 New South Wales and  Norfolk Island Yes 1984[137] Yes Yes 2014[138] Yes Yes Yes 2003[137] Yes 1982[137] Yes 2010[137] Yes Yes Yes
 Northern Territory Yes 1983[137] No Yes 2006[137] Yes No Yes 2004[137] Yes No Yes Yes Yes
 Queensland Yes 1990[137] No (under review) No (pending) Yes Yes Yes 2016[137] Yes No (foster parents only) Yes Yes Yes
 South Australia Yes 1975[137] Yes No (under common law only) Yes Yes (domestic partnership agreement) Yes 1975[137] Yes No (under review since 2014)[139] Yes No (ART banned) Yes
 Tasmania Yes 1994 (overridden by federal law); 1997 (state law)[137] No (pending) Yes 2003[137] Yes Yes Yes 1997[137] Yes Yes 2013[137] Yes Yes Yes
 Victoria Yes 1980/1[137] Yes Yes 2005[137] Yes Yes Yes 1980/1[137] Yes Yes 2016[137] Yes Yes Yes
 Western Australia Yes 1990[137] No Yes 2008[137] Yes No Yes 2002[140] Yes Yes 2002[141] Yes Yes/No (ART and IVF legal,
Surrogacy illegal)

See also[edit]

LGBT rights in Australian states and territories:


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External links[edit]

Reviews of Laws

History and Activism

Adoption and Parenting