Recognition of same-sex unions in Australia
Same-sex unions are treated as de facto unions under Australian federal law, though each Australian state and territory is entitled to create their own laws with respect to same-sex relationship registers and same-sex partnership schemes. Civil unions and domestic partnerships are available to same-sex couples in most states and territories. Same-sex couples are prevented from marrying by the 2004 amendments to the federal Marriage Act (1961) by the Howard Government.
As of September 2016, 21 same-sex marriage related bills have been introduced in the Parliament of Australia, none of which have passed and become law. In December 2013 the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) passed legislation which briefly legalised same-sex within the territory, prompting the Federal Government to launch a constitutional challenge in the High Court. The High Court struck down the ACT legislation on the basis that the law was inconsistent with federal legislation, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The current Coalition Government's proposal to hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage on 11 February 2017 has been rejected by the Australian Senate.
- 1 De facto unions
- 2 State and territory recognition schemes
- 3 Same-sex marriage
- 4 Constitutional and legal issues
- 5 Australian marriage legislation
- 6 Public opinion
- 7 Community debate
- 8 See also
- 9 External links
- 10 References
De facto unions
De facto unions, defined in the federal Family Law Act 1975, are available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. De facto relationships provide couples who are living together on a genuine domestic basis with many of the same rights and benefits as married couples. Two people can become a de facto couple by entering into a registered relationship (i.e.: civil union or domestic partnership) or by being assessed as such by the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court. Couples who are living together are generally recognised as a de facto union and thus able to claim many of the rights and benefits of a married couple, even if they have not registered or officially documented their relationship.
Rudd Government 2008/09 reforms
Following the Australian Human Rights Commission's 2007 report Same-Sex: Same Entitlements and an audit of Commonwealth (i.e.: federal) legislation, in 2009 the Rudd 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. These laws, which passed the Parliament in November 2008, amended several other existing Commonwealth acts to equalise treatment for same-sex couples and any children that such couples may be raising, with respect to the following areas:
- Health Insurance
- Social Security
- Aged care and child support
- Veterans' Affairs
For instance, with relation to social security and general family law, same-sex couples were previously not 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. Such reforms, however, do not completely equalise treatment for same-sex couples; for instance, they do not have the same rights and entitlements as married heterosexual couples with respect to workers' compensation death benefits, pensions for the partners of Defence Force veterans and access to carer's leave. Despite large equality of rights, Australia does not have a national registered partnership, civil union or same-sex relationship scheme.
Legislative history prior to de facto unions
In 2004, amendments to the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act to allow tax free payment of superannuation benefits to be made to the surviving partner on an interdependent relationships, included same sex couples, or a relationship where one person was financially dependent on another person. Prior to 2008, same-sex couples were only recognised by the federal government in very limited circumstances. For example, since the 1990s, same-sex foreign partners of Australian citizens have been able to receive residency permits in Australia known as "interdependency visas". Following a national inquiry into financial and work-related discrimination against same-sex relationships, on 21 June 2007, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) released its Same-Sex: Same Entitlements report. The Commission identified 58 Commonwealth law statutes and provisions that explicitly discriminate against same-gender couples by using the term 'member of the opposite sex'.
The report found that 100 statutes and provisions under federal law discriminated against same-sex couples by using the term 'member of the opposite sex', from Aged Care, Superannuation, Childcare, Medicare (including the PBS) through to Pensions. "All the basics that opposite-gender couples are legally entitled to and take for granted"  were things same-sex couples were effectively barred from utilising under the former system.
State and territory recognition schemes
Same-sex couples have access to different relationship recognition schemes in Australia's eight states and territories. Under federal law, these relationships are treated as de facto unions. Unless the states and territories legislated otherwise, these schemes would remain in place as an option for same-sex couples in the event Australia passed a federal marriage equality law.
The Australian Capital Territory provides same-sex couples with the right to access a civil union. Under the federal laws, these unions are treated as de facto unions. In August 2012, the ACT's Civil Union Bill passed after legal advice demonstrated that the federal government had removed its ability to legislate for territorial and state same-sex marriage after it defined marriage as only between man and woman in the Marriage Amendment Act 2004. The Civil Union Act 2012 grants many of the same rights to same-sex couples as people married under the Marriage Act. The act was not challenged by the Gillard federal government. The act was to be repealed and civil unions were to be no longer accessible to same-sex couples upon commencement of the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013, which (if not struck down by the High Court) would have permanently legalised same-sex marriage in the territory. Due to the High Court's ruling striking down the ACT's same-sex marriage law as invalid, the repeal of the Civil Unions Act 2012 is of no effect and civil unions continue to take place in the ACT.
Civil partnerships, commonly referred to as civil unions, have been legal in Queensland since April 2016. In December 2002, the states' Discrimination Law Amendment Act 2002 created a new and non-discriminatory definition of "de facto partner", affecting 42 pieces of legislation. This gave same-sex couples the same rights as de facto couples in most instances. Queensland law since November 2016 includes access to adoption for same-sex couples.
On 25 October 2011, Queensland Deputy Premier, Andrew Fraser, introduced the Civil Partnerships bill 2011 into the Queensland Legislative Assembly. The bill passed the Legislative Assembly on 30 November by a vote of 47 to 40, with those against including four votes from the Australian Labor Party. The Civil Partnerships Act 2011 allowed for same-sex couples who are Queensland residents to enter into a civil partnership. Shortly after the change of government in the 2012 state elections, the centre-right LNP Government passed the "Civil Partnerships and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012". The new law changed the name from "civil partnership" to "registered relationship" and prohibited the state from offering ceremonies for those who do register their relationship in this manner. Following the 2015 state election, which saw Labor form minority government, the Parliament passed (in December 2015) the Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015, which restored state-sanctioned ceremonies for same-sex and opposite-sex couples and once more changed regulations referring to "registered relationships" with "civil partnerships". The law came into effect following a number of administrative matters occurring, with civil partnerships resuming in the state on 2 April 2016.
Same-sex couples have access to domestic partnership registries (otherwise known as registered relationships) in New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia.
New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, has recognised domestic partnerships since July 2010. The Relationships Register Act 2010 was introduced to the NSW Legislative Assembly on 23 April 2010, to provide conclusive proof of the existence of the relationship, thereby gaining all of the rights afforded to de facto couples under state and federal law. The bill was approved by the NSW Legislative Assembly on a 62–9 vote on 11 May 2010, and then by the NSW Legislative Council (upper house) on a 32–5 vote on 12 May. It was signed into law by the governor and entered into force on 1 July 2010. Earlier, in June 2008, the state parliament passed the Miscellaneous Acts Amendment (Same Sex Relationships) Bill 2008 which recognises co-mothers as legal parents of children born through donor insemination, provides birth certificates allowing two mothers to be recognised, creates amendments to 57 pieces of state legislation to ensure de facto couples, including same-sex couples, are treated equally with married couples, and creates amendments to the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act to ensure same-sex couples are protected from discrimination on the basis of their "marital or domestic status" in employment, accommodation and access to other goods and services. In November 2013, a bill was introduced into the NSW Upper House to legalise same-sex marriage. The bill was defeated. The external territory of Norfolk Island has, since 1 July 2016, been incorporated into New South Wales legislation.
Victoria has recognised domestic partnerships since December 2008, when the state's Domestic Partnerships Register came into effect. This allowed same-sex couples to register their relationships with the state Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and provide conclusive proof of a de facto relationship, allowing them to receive all the benefits and rights of such a couple under state and federal law. In 2016, the parliament passed reforms to the state's domestic partnerships legislation, allowing for the recognition of overseas same-sex marriages on official documents and also allowing couples the option of having an official ceremony when registering for a domestic partnership. The earliest legislative reform in the state designed to provide equal treatment of same-sex couples came in August 2001, in the form of the Statute Law Amendment (Relationships) Act 2001 and the Statute Law Further Amendment (Relationships) Act 2001. The Acts amended 60 laws in Victoria to give same-sex couples, called "domestic partners", many rights equal to those enjoyed by de facto couples, including hospital access, medical decision making, superannuation, inheritance rights, property tax, landlord/tenancy rights, mental health treatment and victims of crime procedures. The local council cities of Melbourne and Yarra also provide couples with the option of signing a "Relationship Declaration Register", another way of demonstrating the existence of a de facto relationship.
In South Australia, the Statutes Amendment (Domestic Partners) Act 2006 (Number 43), which took effect 1 June 2007, amended 97 Acts, dispensing with the term "de facto" and categorising couples as "domestic partners". This meant same-sex couples and any two people who live together are covered by the same laws. In December 2016, the Parliament passed a law which created a relationship register for same-sex couples and recognised the relationships of same-sex couples who had married or entered into an official union in other states and nations. Prior to that reform, same-sex couples could make a written agreement called a Domestic Partnership Agreement about their living arrangements. This may be prepared at any time and is legal from the time it is made, but must meet other requirements, such as joint commitments, before being recognised as domestic partners.
In Tasmania, beginning 1 January 2004, the states' Relationships Act 2003 allowed same-sex couples to register their union as a type of domestic partnership in two distinct categories, Significant Relationships and Caring Relationships, with the state's Registry of Births, Death and Marriages. The new definition of partner or spouse, "two people in a relationship whether or not it's sexual", was embedded into 80 pieces of legislation, giving same-sex couples rights in making decisions about a partner's health, provides for guardianship when a partner is incapacitated, and gives same-sex couples equal access to a partner's public sector pensions. It also allows one member of a same-sex couple to adopt the biological child of their partner. In September 2010, the Tasmanian parliament unanimously passed the legislation to recognise same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions as registered partnerships under the Relationships Act 2003, making it the first Australian state or territory to do so.
In August 2012, a bill was introduced into the Tasmanian Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage. The bill was defeated. In October 2013, a bill was re-introduced into the Tasmanian Upper House to legalise same-sex marriage. The bill was defeated.
No relationship registration scheme
Same-sex de facto couples in all states and territories have much the same rights as opposite-sex de facto couples. However, the inability of same-sex couples to have conclusive evidence of their relationships in Western Australia and the Northern Territory can make it difficult for them to access rights accorded to them under the law. The following list discusses states and territories without registered partnerships for same-sex couples: However, section 118 of The Australian Constitution (The Full Faith and Credit Section) would, in fact, mean that persons registered under the laws of States and Territories with Civil Partnership or Civil Union laws would be able to enforce their rights in jurisdictions without specific enactments.
In the Northern Territory, in March 2004, the territory Government enacted the Law Reform (Gender, Sexuality and De Facto Relationships) Act 2003 to remove legislative discrimination against same sex couples in most areas of territory law (except the Adoption Act) and recognise same-sex unions as de facto unions. The Act removed distinctions based on a person's gender, sexuality or de facto relationship in approximately 50 Acts and Regulations. As in NSW and the ACT, reform has also included enabling the lesbian partner of a woman to be recognised as the parent of her partner's child across State law.
In Western Australia, the Acts Amendment (Lesbian and Gay Law Reform) Act 2002 removed all remaining legislative discrimination toward sexual orientation by adding the new definition of "de facto partner" into 62 Acts, provisions and statutes and created new family law designed to recognise same-sex unions as de facto unions.
The federal Marriage Act [Section 5 (1)], amended in 2004, defines marriage as "the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life". Section 88EA of the Act also stipulates that any foreign marriages of same-sex couples "must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia".
There was no express prohibition on same-sex marriage until 2004, when public debate increased following court decisions in Massachusetts and Canada legalising same-sex marriage. In an attempt to prevent a similar outcome in Australia, the Howard Government introduced the Marriage Amendment Act in the Parliament on 27 May 2004. The amendment specified that marriage, undefined in the Act, would be defined as a "union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others" and that foreign same-sex marriages would not be recognised as such in Australia. Additional reforms to the Family Law Act prevented same-sex couples from being eligible adoptive parents for children in inter-country adoption arrangements, though these restrictions were eventually relaxed in 2014. The amendment passed the parliament on 13 August 2004 and went into effect on the day it received royal assent, 16 August 2004.
There have subsequently been several attempts to legalise same-sex marriage nationwide via approval from both houses of the Federal Parliament. A number of bills legalising same-sex marriage were introduced between 2004 and 2016, but each of these has failed.
The current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, supports same-sex marriage. The Turnbull Government went to the 2016 federal election with a policy to put the issue of same-sex marriage to a plebiscite, and was narrowly re-elected.
In September 2012, the House of Representatives rejected a bill introduced by Labor MP Stephen Jones aimed at legalising same-sex marriage by 98 votes to 42. The Senate subsequently voted against a bill to legalise same-sex marriage by 41 votes to 26. In both instances the Gillard Labor Government allowed MPs a conscience vote whilst the opposition Liberal/National Coalition voted as a bloc against the legislation. The issue caused significant tension within centre-right Abbott Government, which resolved in August 2015 to deny parliamentary members a free vote and instead move for a national vote on same-sex marriage to be held sometime after the 2016 federal election, either in the form of a plebiscite or constitutional referendum. This policy was maintained by the Turnbull Government after Malcolm Turnbull (a supporter of same-sex marriage) replaced Abbott as Prime Minister following a leadership challenge. During the course of the 2016 federal election campaign, several Coalition MPs said they would consider voting 'no' to same-sex marriage in the parliament even if a majority of the national electorate voted in favour, creating a split within the Coalition. The government was narrowly re-elected at the election.
The government later announced it intended to hold the plebiscite in February 2017 though several Coalition MPs publicly stated that any defeat of plebiscite legislation would result in the end of debate on the issue for at least 3 years. Following the announcement, the Greens, which hold 9 seats in the Senate, and the Nick Xenophon Team, made up of three Senators and one member of the House of Representatives, confirmed they would oppose plebiscite-enabling legislation.
On 14 September 2016, Prime Minister Turnbull introduced into the House the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016, the bill to create the plebiscite. Under the provisions of the legislation, Australian voters would be required to write either "yes" or "no" in answer to the question "Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?" Additionally, $15 million of taxpayer funding are to be equally distributed to the official "yes" and "no" campaigns. If passed by the parliament, the plebiscite would be held on 11 February 2017. On 11 October 2016, the Labor Opposition announced it had officially resolved to oppose the plebiscite legislation, meaning that as things stand, the legislation lacks majority support in the Senate and the plebiscite will likely not go ahead. Debate on the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 was held in the House between 11–20 October, until the Government moved to end debate on the second reading and move for a vote. The bill passed the House 76–67 votes and moved to the Senate. Debate on the bill was held in the Senate throughout the day and evening of 7 November. The bill was defeated in the Senate at the second reading stage by 33 votes to 29. Following the result in the Senate, Prime Minister Turnbull stated the government had "no plans to take any other measures on this issue".
Federal parliamentarians who publicly support same-sex marriage
Both the current Prime Minister and Opposition Leader (Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten respectively), as well as their deputy party leaders (Julie Bishop and Tanya Plibersek) support same-sex marriage.
House of Representatives
|Mark Butler||Labor||Port Adelaide||SA|
|Michael Danby*||Labor||Melbourne Ports||VIC|
|Warren Entsch*||Liberal National||Leichardt||QLD|
|Trevor Evans||Liberal National||Brisbane||QLD|
|Rebekha Sharkie||Nick Xenophon Team||Mayo||SA|
|Matt Thistlethwaite||Labor||Kingsford Smith||NSW|
|Andrew Wallace||Liberal National||Fisher||QLD|
|Jason Wood||Liberal||La Trobe||VIC|
|Trent Zimmerman||Liberal||North Sydney||NSW|
* Has voted against same-sex marriage
|Richard Di Natale||Greens||VIC|
|Stirling Griff||Nick Xenophon Team||SA|
|Derryn Hinch||Justice Party||VIC|
|Skye Kakoschke-Moore||Nick Xenophon Team||SA|
|David Leyonhjelm||Liberal Democratic||NSW|
|Nigel Scullion*||Country Liberal||NT|
|Nick Xenophon||Nick Xenophon Team||SA|
* Has voted against same-sex marriage
State and territory law
States and territories have long had the ability to create laws with respect to relationships, though Section 51 (xxi) of the Constitution of Australia prescribes that marriage is a legislative power of the federal parliament.
In December 2013, the High Court of Australia ruled, in relation to a territory-based same-sex marriage law of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), that the federal Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union of a man and woman, precluded states and territories from legislating for same-sex marriage. As a result, only the federal parliament can legislate for same-sex marriage, whilst states and territories almost certainly cannot.
Since the Commonwealth introduced the Marriage Act Cth. 1961, marriage laws in Australia have been regarded as an exclusive Commonwealth power. The precise rights of states and territories with respect to creating state-based same-sex marriage laws have been complicated since the Howard Government amendment to the Marriage Act in 2004 to define marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others. In their December 2013 ruling striking down the ACT's same-sex marriage law, the High Court effectively determined that all laws with respect to marriage were an exclusive power of the Commonwealth and that no state or territory law legalising same-sex marriage or creating any type of marriage could operate concurrently with the federal Marriage Act; "the kind of marriage provided for by the [Marriage] Act is the only kind of marriage that may be formed or recognised in Australia". As a result, the only possible method for same-sex marriage legalisation to occur in Australia is via legislation passed into law by the Federal Parliament only.
Prior to that ruling, reports released by the New South Wales Parliamentary Committee on Social Issues and the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute have found that a state parliament "has the power to legislate on the topic of marriage, including same-sex marriage. However, if New South Wales chooses to exercise that power and enact a law for same-sex marriage, the law could be subject to challenge in the High Court of Australia" and that no current arguments "present an absolute impediment to achieving state-based or Commonwealth marriage equality". With respect to territories, the ACT Government obtained legal advice that its bill seeking to legalise same-sex marriage could operate concurrently with the federal Government's statutory ban on recognising same-sex marriage. The Abbott Government's acting Solicitor-General advised the federal Attorney-General, George Brandis, that the ACT's same-sex marriage law was inconsistent with the federal Government's laws whilst other experts rated the ACT's law as 'doubtful' or impossible to pass judicial scrutiny. Those experts were proven correct, when on 12 December 2013, the High Court of Australia struck down the Australian Capital Territory's same-sex marriage law.
Aside from the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania is the only other state or territory to have passed same-sex marriage legislation in a chamber of its legislature. The state lower house passed same-sex marriage legislation by 13-11 votes in September 2012, though the state upper house subsequently voted against this legislation a few weeks later by a vote of 8-6. Both houses have since passed motions giving in-principle, symbolic support for same-sex marriage.
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.
Constitutional and legal issues
Referral of power and recognition of married and de facto relationships
There is an important difference in the source of power of The Commonwealth to legislate over married and de facto relationships. Marriage and "matrimonial causes" are supported by sections 51(xxi) and (xxii) of the Constitution. The legal status of marriage is also internationally recognised whereas the power to legislate for de facto's and their financial matters relies on referrals by states to the Commonwealth in accordance with Section 51(xxxvii) of the Australian Constitution, where it states the law shall extend only to states by whose Parliaments the matter is referred, or which afterward adopt the law.
Legal status consequences outside of Australia
Thus, same sex or heterosexual, unmarried and also married couples living in The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France for example, have the right to choose their own legal status and respective rights and obligations easily, such as to have no community or to have community of property, as an active opt in system at time of first living together. This is in contrast to the Australian de facto and married regimes where all property is in the pool, unless a couple actively opt out with a binding financial contract drawn up by lawyers and they also have to be resident in Australia to do that.
Australian marriage legislation
Marriage Amendment Act 2004
On 27 May 2004, the then federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock introduced the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004, intending to incorporate the common law definition of marriage into the Marriage Act 1961 and the Family Law Act. In June 2004, the bill passed the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the amendment by 38 votes to 6 on 13 August 2004. The bill subsequently received royal assent, becoming the Marriage Amendment Act 2004.
The amendment specifies the following:
Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.
Under section 46 of the Marriage Act, a celebrant or minister is required to say these words, or words to this effect, in every marriage ceremony.
The Labor shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon on the same day the amendment was proposed said that the Labor Opposition would not oppose the amendment, arguing that it did not affect the legal situation of same-sex relationships, merely putting into statute law what was already common law. The Family First senator supported the bill. The bill was also supported by the Nationals.
Despite having support of the major parties the bill was contested by sections of the community, human rights groups and some minor political parties. The Australian Greens opposed the bill, calling it the "Marriage Discrimination Act". The Australian Democrats also opposed the bill. Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett stated that the legislation devalues his marriage, and Greens Senator Bob Brown referred to John Howard and the legislation as "hateful". Brown was asked to retract his statements, but refused. Bob Brown also quoted as Australia having a "straight Australia policy".
Not all of Labor was in support of the bill. During the bill's second reading, Anthony Albanese, Labor MP for Grayndler said, "what has caused offence is why the government has rushed in this legislation in what is possibly the last fortnight of parliamentary sittings. This bill is a result of 30 bigoted backbenchers who want to press buttons out there in the community."
Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013
On 13 September 2013, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government announced that it would introduce a bill to legalise same-sex marriage, following a decade-long attempt to legislate in the area. "We've been pretty clear on this issue for some time now and there's overwhelming community support for this", Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said. "We would prefer to see the federal parliament legislate for a nationally consistent scheme, but in the absence of this we will act for the people of the ACT. The Marriage Equality Bill 2013 will enable couples who are not able to marry under the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961 to enter into marriage in the ACT. It will provide for solemnisation, eligibility, dissolution and annulment, regulatory requirements and notice of intention in relation to same-sex marriages." On 10 October 2013, federal Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed that the Commonwealth Government would challenge the proposed ACT bill, stating that the Coalition Government has significant constitutional concerns with respect to the bill. The bill was debated in the ACT Legislative Assembly on 22 October 2013, and passed by 9 votes to 8.
As soon as the ACT act had been passed, the Commonwealth launched a challenge to it in the High Court, which delivered judgment on 12 December 2013. As to the relation between the ACT act and federal legislation, the Court found that the ACT act was invalid and of "no effect", because it was "inconsistent", in terms of the Australian Capital Territory Self-Government Act 1988 (Cth), with the federal Marriage Act 1961 (Cth). It was inconsistent both because its definition of marriage conflicted with that in the federal act and because the federal act was exclusive, leaving no room for any other definition in legislation of a state or a territory. However, the Court went on to determine that the word "marriage" in Constitution 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. It can do so by amending the definition of "marriage" in the Marriage Act.
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In June 2007, a Galaxy Research poll conducted for advocacy group GetUp! measured the opinions of 1,100 Australians aged 16 and over and found that 57% of respondents supported same-sex marriage, 37% were opposed and 6% were unsure. The poll also found that 71% of respondents supported same-sex couples having the same legal entitlements as opposite-sex de facto couples.
A June 2009 poll conducted by Galaxy Research and commissioned by the Australian Marriage Equality group measured the opinions of 1,100 Australians aged 16 and over and found that 60% of respondents supported the recognition of same-sex marriage, with 36% opposed and 4% undecided. Among Greens voters 82% supported same-sex marriage, whilst 74% of those aged 16–24 supported same-sex marriage. Those aged 50 or above were the only age bracket to oppose same-sex marriage recognition, at a 55% disapproval rate.
An October 2010 poll conducted by Galaxy Research and commissioned by Australian Marriage Equality measured the opinions of 1,050 Australians aged 18 and over and found that 62% of respondents supported the recognition of same-sex marriage, with 33% opposed and 5% undecided. The poll found 78% of respondents supported a conscience vote on the recognition of same-sex marriage, with 16% opposed and 6% undecided. Support was highest amongst those respondents aged 18–24 (84%), and who lived in South Australia (83%). The majority of respondents from each state and each age bracket were in support.
A March 2011 poll conducted by Essential Media found that support for same-sex marriage had fallen below 50% and opposition was up by 4%.
A July 2011 poll of 543 people conducted by Roy Morgan Research measured the support for a number of positions on marriage and found that 68% of Australians support same-sex marriage and 78% classified marriage as a "necessary" institution, with only 22% stating it was an "unnecessary" institution.
A November 2011 Galaxy Research poll, commissioned by the Australian Marriage Equality group, of over 1000 voters found that 80% agreed that Tony Abbott should allow the Liberal/National Coalition a conscience vote on same-same marriage legislation as the Australian Labor Party do. Support for a conscience vote among Coalition supporters reached an all-time high of 76%
In a February 2012 online poll of 1506 Australian adult members on the Nine Rewards website by Angus Reid Public Opinion found that 49% of respondents said same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry, 31% said they should be allowed to enter into civil unions but not marry and 14% opposed any legal recognition. No attempt was made to make the survey representative of the entire population, and the Nine Rewards website is associated with the Nine Network, an Australian television channel popular with older and more conservative viewers.
From February–April 2012 the House of Representatives conducted an online survey to provide a simple means for the public to voice their views on same-sex marriage and the two bills in the parliament which sought to legalise it, the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012. The survey closed on 20 April, having received approximately 276,000 responses, including about 213,500 comments. Of these responses, 64.3% supported same-sex marriage, or approximately 177,600 of the respondents. The report acknowledged that "The online survey was not a statistically valid, random poll. Respondents were self-selected, in that they chose to participate if they wished." 
A May 2013 Ipsos poll found that 54% of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage and another 20% supported another form of recognition for same-sex couples. Results from the August 2013 Vote Compass survey of Australian voters found that 52% of respondents supported same-sex marriage, 12% were neutral, and 36% believed that marriage "should only be between a man and a woman". A 2015 Vote Compass survey with 20,000 respondents found 53% supported same-sex marriage, 10% neutral and 36% opposed. Support for same-sex marriage was higher among women, people with university degrees and higher incomes, and people under 34.
An August 2013 poll conducted by Fairfax Media and Nielson Polling found that 65% of respondents supported legalising marriage between same-sex couples, up 8 points since December 2011, while only 28% were opposed (down 7 points). Support was greater among women (75%) than men (55%) and greater among younger voters than older voters. 57% of respondents said that same-sex marriage was "not important at all" in deciding how they would vote in the coming election. Even for those supporting same-sex marriage 49% said that the issue was "not important at all" in deciding their vote.
In June 2014, Crosby Textor Group was commissioned by Australian Marriage Equality to poll the public on same-sex marriage. Their survey included the following questions on the common reasons for opposition:
|Reason||Agree (%)||Disagree (%)|
|People who choose to be gay know that their choice means they cannot get married||30%||58%|
|It is fine for same-sex couples to have a ceremony, but it should not be called ‘marriage’||30%||63%|
|The recognition of de facto relationships and civil unions is enough; we don’t need same-sex marriage too||29%||63%|
|Children need both a mother and a father, and legalising same-sex marriage could break that down||29%||65%|
|The institution is already under threat and should not be further undermined by this||24%||67%|
|Marriage is only meant to be between a man and a woman, so this is wrong and should not be encouraged||24%||69%|
|Marriage is a religious institution and no changes should be made to it against the wishes of religious groups||23%||70%|
|Same-sex marriages could devalue traditional marriages||22%||73%|
|Allowing same-sex marriage will lead to some people losing their religious freedoms||16%||72%|
|Allowing same-sex marriage is a slippery slope and could lead to issues like polygamy||17%||74%|
A July 2014 poll, commissioned by Australian Marriage Equality and conducted by the [Crosby Textor Group found that 72% of Australians supported legalising same-sex marriage, while only 21% were opposed. A majority of those identifying with major religions supported same-sex marriage, including Catholics, Anglicans and non-Christian religions as did a majority of older Australians aged over 55. Mark Textor stated "This poll definitively puts pay to some of the myths that married couples or those with religious beliefs are against same-sex marriage. It doesn't devalue their marriages or faith, and instead gives everyone equal access to the rights they are accorded". Further, 77% of respondents agreed that Coalition MPs and Senators should be granted a conscience vote on the issue. Jim Reed, director of Research and Strategy at the Crosby Textor Group argued in an opinion piece that the poll represented a "seismic shift in public attitudes towards marriage equality."
Also in July 2014 Newscorp's Newspoll recorded a high vote in favour of same-sex marriage, with two-thirds of respondents supporting marriage between same-sex couples.
A June 2015 Fairfax/Ipsos poll found 68% of respondents expressed support to the question Do you support or oppose legalising marriage between same-sex couples? 25% answered that they were opposed and 7% answered 'Don't Know'.
In July 2015, a Sexton research poll was undertaken to determine the most important issues the federal government should focus on. Survey respondents rated same-sex marriage as equal 13th as their prioritisation. The Australian activist group GetUp! polls the views of its members (termed Vision Surveys) to provide guidance for its "top campaign issues". GetUp! members ranked 'Marriage Equality' as campaign issue No. 16, scoring 2.1% of the votes. The Australian reports that recent research has placed doubts on the accuracy of earlier poll claims. The Australian also says there have been 5 Australian polls taken since May 2015 on 'support for same-sex marriage' with the respective results being 68%, 58%, 59%, 59% and 54%.
A Sexton Research survey, commissioned by Marriage Alliance (a group which does not support same-sex marriage) was undertaken in July 2015. The Sexton research has queried the findings of the above June 2014, Crosby Textor Group poll. It was also reported that same-sex marriage was ranked in national importance, by participants, in the Crosby Textor study as 13th priority. Same-sex marriage was rated as 16th in a GetUp! members survey.
In August 2015, Fairfax/Ipsos found SSM support constant at 69% with 25% opposed, although support was much higher among under-25s (88%) than over-55s (55%).
A community survey by Essential Media Communications showed support for same-sex marriage at 60% and support for a parliamentary vote at 22%, with support for a people's vote at 66% and in a Sexton survey of 1,200 people, support for a people's vote was 76%.
In September 2015, an Essential Media Communications poll found 67% of Australians wanted a peoples’ vote (i.e., referendum or plebiscite) to resolve the definition of marriage, with "little change since this question was asked in August". However, in October 2015, another Essential poll found that support for a people's vote on the issue fell to 43% when informed that "a national vote on same-sex marriage would cost around $150 million". 41% favoured a parliamentary vote. The same poll also found that 59% of respondents thought that "same-sex couples should be allowed to marry", 30% of respondents thought that "same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry", whilst 11% answered "do not know".
A March 2016 Essential Media poll found that 64% of respondents agreed that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, 26% stated they should not be allowed to marry and 11% answered "don't know".
A July 2016 Galaxy Research poll, commissioned by Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, found decreasing levels of support for the plebiscite. Asked whether one supported having a plebiscite, 48% of respondents stated they did and 30% stated they did not. This marked a sharp drop in support for the plebiscite when contrasted with a June/July 2016 poll conducted by Fairfax Media and Ipsos, which found 69% approval for the plebiscite. In the Galaxy poll, the pro-plebiscite figure dropped to 35% when respondents were informed the plebiscite was not legally binding and dropped further to 25% when the $160 million expected cost of the plebiscite was raised.
An August 2016 Essential Media poll found that 57% of respondents stated they would vote 'yes' in a plebiscite to the question; "Do you approve of a law to permit people of the same-sex to marry?" A further 28% of respondents stated they would vote 'no' and 15% were unsure.
A poll carried out by the University of Melbourne in September 2016 found that Maranoa, in southwest Queensland, is the only electorate in the country where a majority of voters are opposed to same-sex marriage. The ten electorates most supportive of same-sex marriage are Sydney, Melbourne, Grayndler, Wentworth, Melbourne Ports, Wills, Gellibrand, Batman, Higgins and Brisbane. Less than 10% in Sydney and Melbourne are opposed to allowing same-sex couples to wed.
Religious and lobby groups
An Australian National University election survey conducted in June 2015 showed that 41 to 45% of Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church or Presbyterian, voters support same-sex marriage. The same survey showed that same-sex marriage was supported by 15% of Muslim voters. The federal electorate of Reid has a large Muslim population, "implacably opposed to marriage being redefined and same-sex marriage made legal." Australian Islamists are also strongly opposed. The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils does not support same-sex marriage. Of notable Australian Muslims, Ed Husic supports same-sex marriage, Waleed Aly is said to support same-sex marriage and Keysar Trad does not support same-sex marriage.
In December 2013, Australian Marriage Equality (AME) criticised the tactics of the Australian marriage-equality lobby-group Equal Love as "counterproductive and unrepresentative" to the movement. A committee member for Equal Love said that AME had launched an "unsubtle attack" and defended their tactics, stating "a visual display of community outrage over the issue emboldens those who want change" There have also been differences in campaigning-strategies between AME and Community Action Against Homophobia in their respective lobbying tactics for marriage equality.
Views of public and corporate figures
In May 2015, Radio broadcaster Alan Jones commented on the push to legalise same-sex marriage saying, "my view is that when people find love they should be able to celebrate it. And they shouldn't be discriminated against according to the nature of that love. To deny people the recognition for a relationship which is based on love is to deny in my opinion one of humankind's most basic, but as I said elusive, qualities. Let the Parliament vote. It makes the laws of the land... we shouldn't be frightened about celebrating the love of one person for another." Prime Minister Abbott said "I deeply respect his views and I’m confident that he would respect mine, he would respect my sister’s, he would respect Bill Shorten’s and Tanya Plibersek’s and Warren Entsch’s, and that’s what we need – we need to see mutual respect of all the different views on this debate because as I said, decent people can differ on this subject."
Also in May 2015, a number of large companies took out a full page ad in The Australian declaring support for marriage equality, including Westpac, St.George, ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank, BT Financial, Bankwest, Telstra, Optus, Qantas, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Foxtel and Google. With the SBS logo featuring in that full-page newspaper advertisement, a Senate Committee hearing asked why does SBS as a public broadcaster, involve themselves in this political campaign. Managing Director Michael Ebeid, defended SBS saying he did not believe, "same-sex marriage is a political issue" and that "we are an organisation that does everything we can to support equality". Politicians also noted that SBS had pulled an anti-marriage equality ad ahead of its telecast of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The Australian Football League and National Rugby League have declared support for same-sex marriage.
In August 2015, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in office from 2010 to 2013, announced a personal reversal of opinion on same-sex marriage, now in favour of it. Ms Gillard also criticised the proposal for a plebiscite or referendum.
In July 2015, Senators Penny Wong and Cory Bernardi debated same-sex marriage at the National Press Club, using most of the common arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Wong referred to Obergefell v. Hodges and the Irish referendum, and argued that the children of LGBT parents in Australia would benefit from their parents being able to marry. Wong said she would not support multi-member relationships. Bernardi argued that religious liberty, freedom of expression and children's rights would be curtailed if same-sex marriage was enacted.
Former ABC Director and Chairman, Maurice Newman commented in September 2015 on the merits of a plebiscite; "people of various faiths have been taught throughout history that marriage is between a man and a woman. Now these beliefs are pushed by the media as hateful and backward, and those who hold them are bigots. Who knew? There’s a lot of unlearning to be done.... Surely from time to time, on matters of deep social significance, there is much to be said for a plebiscite. A popular mandate will provide an endorsement that parliaments can’t provide".
In July 2015, Guy Rundle Crikey's writer-at-large said, "Same-sex marriage is absurd.... If Labor has nothing more progressive to offer than same-sex marriage, there is nothing left." In October 2015, Simon Copland wrote in the LGBT magazine Star Observer: "After years of failure... I suspect we may not see marriage equality for a long time yet."
In June 2016, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) approved a motion supporting the legalisation of same-sex marriage. The motion was put forward by Lord Mayor of Darwin Katrina Fong Lim and Meghan Hopper, a member of the Council of Moreland. It was approved by a strong majority at ALGA's National General Assembly. The motion reads the following:
That this National General Assembly call on the Federal Government to treat with dignity and respect all members of the community regardless of gender or sexuality by supporting changes to the Marriage Act to achieve marriage equality for same-sex couples.
The motion will now have to go before the ALGA's board for approval before it becomes the organisation’s official policy.
As of December 2016, of the 547 local governments (also known as "councils" or "shires") in Australia, a total of 41 are known to have passed formal motions in support of the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Most of the 41 are urban councils.
- City of Sydney, City of Greater Geelong, City of Hobart, City of Moreland, City of Vincent, Camden Council, City of Hawkesbury, Coonamble Shire, City of Randwick, Tenterfield Shire, Inner West Council, Lachlan Shire, Bega Valley Shire, City of Blue Mountains, Surf Coast Shire, Shire of Hepburn, City of Lismore, City of Albury, City of Ballarat, City of Wodonga, City of Glenorchy, Byron Shire, City of Port Phillip, City of Glen Eira, City of Hobsons Bay, City of Darebin, Shire of Buloke, City of Greater Shepparton, City of Maribyrnong, Central Coast Council, Kingborough Council, Shire of Strathbogie, Richmond Valley Council, City of Melbourne, City of Banyule, City of Yarra, Shire of Indigo, Town of Port Hedland, City of Darwin, City of Brisbane and City of Lake Macquarie
No other local governments are considering a motion to support same-sex marriage.
At least two local government have rejected motions to support same-sex marriage:
Australian local government authorities are categorised by type. The categories are: Boroughs 1, Cities 121, Councils 51, District councils 35, Municipalities 6, Regional councils 52, Rural cities 7, Shires 238, Towns 17, Community government councils 2, Aboriginal shires 12, Island councils 1, Unincorporated 18, totalling 561 local government authorities.
Adoption is restricted in South Australia and Northern Territory to couples of the opposite sex only. Debate regarding religious exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies reignited during Victoria's legalisation of same-sex adoption in December 2015. New South Wales and Victoria include such exemptions in their adoption laws.
With altruistic surrogacy being restricted in South Australia and Western Australia to couples of the opposite sex there is an inequality for gay couples wanting children. With the reducing opportunities for overseas commercial surrogacy, altruistic surrogacy is used by both gay couples and by lesbian couples, as a means of having children. In Australia, the TV drama House Husbands which brings, "the idea of gay relationships, gay marriage and surrogacy, to the forefront" has used altruistic surrogacy for a gay couple as a storyline. Debate is continuing into commercial surrogacy in Australia to help gay men start a family in a safe and regulated industry. Ethical issues associated with same-sex surrogacy, including the linkage between the child and its biological parent, are being discussed and debated.
Various international studies have been carried out on LGBT parenting, and organisations including the Australian Institute of Family Studies have commissioned systematic reviews to assess the methodology of individual studies, and evaluate the conclusions of each of the (child-focussed) studies. Such studies have found that "research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families." Maya Newell produced the documentary Gayby Baby, looking at children in same-sex relationships, with the film marketed as "stirring" political debate on same-sex marriage.
Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett stated in 2011 "happy heterosexual marriages are the best environment for the mental health of children". Conjecture regarding his status in charity organisation beyondblue followed, though his views on same-sex parenting quickly reversed. In May 2012, Kennett announced he supported a change in the federal Marriage Act to legalise same-sex marriage. In March 2016, following a vigorous parliamentary debate on the merits of the federally funded Safe Schools program in schools, Kennett penned his most passionate defence of same-sex marriage and LGBTI rights yet, arguing "why should we deny those who love each other, regardless of their sex, the right to marry?" and "...ending discrimination against those of the same sex marrying fits into this broader campaign" of anti-discrimination and anti-bullying.
Free expression and religious liberty
Queensland General Practitioner David van Gend has said on the Australian Marriage Forum website that same-sex parenting will create a stolen generation. Julia Gillard has sought legal advice for van Gend using her remarks about forced adoption in political advertising in April and again in August 2015. TV channels that ran his ads, in March 2015, during the Sydney Mardi Gras were widely criticised on social media, and the Advertising Standards Bureau received "a large number of complaints" but cannot adjudicate over political advertising.
Following another TV advertisement screened in August 2015 by van Gend's organisation, Foxtel were "bombarded" with threats of subscription cancellations from customers, and multiple radio and TV networks declined ads from van Gend, with NOVA Entertainment saying the ads don't fit with their youthful brand. The Australian Communications and Media Authority subsequently found that the advertisement was not in breach of the television codes of practice.
An August 2015 episode of Media Watch argued that "both sides of the debate have an equal right to be heard". In relation to attempts to suppress the second TV advertisement mentioned above, host Paul Barry said, "Whatever happened to freedom of speech? And was the ad really so offensive?... All pretty mild, surely?... The ad in fact makes hardly any claims at all and in my opinion to say it’s inviting hate is ridiculous".
In many Australian public schools, discussion of controversial issues must be for educational purposes only. The Safe Schools Coalition is a taxpayer funded initiative that is marketed as reducing bullying of LGBT students in schools, and while they have been told by government to "stay silent" on same-sex marriage they encourage students to express their support for same-sex marriage in school assignments and at political rallies, and to organise guest speakers talking on subjects such as, "why we support equal marriage."
In 2015 Tasmanian Archbishop Julius Porteous distributed a booklet outlining the Catholic Church's position on marriage, titled "Don't mess with Marriage". It encouraged parents to lobby parliamentarians against same-sex marriage. An application was made by a Hobart transgender activist and Greens candidate to Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commission over the booklet. John Roskam, writing in the Australian Financial Review has said, "A vote in a plebiscite or referendum, in which one side is not allowed to present its case, is not a legitimate vote. That's why both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage should be concerned by the complaint against Archbishop Porteous and the Catholic Church. Freedom of speech is fundamental to liberal democracy. Freedom of speech confers legitimacy on political outcomes". The Anti-Discrimination Commission subsequently upheld the complaint. Senator Eric Abetz said that the church’s right to "teach its flock" its beliefs on marriage were being "shut down". Janet Albrechtsen, writing in The Australian says, "This is not one of those thorny cases of conflicting rights where you have to come down on one side or another. It’s not a case of either supporting same-sex marriage or supporting free speech. Here you have the luxury of both. This is not about defending the Catholic bishops. The real issue is the emergence of yet another orthodoxy that is strangling free speech".
Christian organisations have said that non-discrimination laws should not be allowed to limit freedom of religion, and have argued for new laws to enshrine a right to discriminate against same-sex couples. ACT Attorney-General, Simon Corbell has said, in the ACT, it will be, "unlawful for those who provide goods, services and facilities in the wedding industry to discriminate against another person on the basis of their sexuality or their relationship status. This includes discrimination by refusing to provide or make available those goods, services or facilities." Tim Wilson has argued that religious anti-discrimination exemptions should be included in same-sex marriage laws. Others though, such as Australian lawyer and associate director and research fellow in the Public Interest Law Centre at New York University School of Law, David Glasgow, have argued that the core of this religious freedom campaign is simply desiring "the liberty to refuse service" to particular customers. Glasgow contends that Australian anti-discrimination law includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected attributes akin to race or religion "because we recognise that those attributes should not impede a person's participation in civic life" and that "the law insists, rightly, that to reap the benefits of opening a business to the public, the business must be open on equal terms." Some are concerned that allowing religious business owners and service providers to right to refuse to provide services related to same-sex weddings/ceremonies (i.e.: wedding cakes and/or flowers) might lead to further exemptions not related to same-sex marriages but rather anything to do with homosexuality. Others have lamented the fact that, increasingly, much of the religious-based opposition to same-sex marriage has lost touch with the secular reality governing Australian laws and legal principles.
Opponents of same-sex marriage say they have faced attempts to limit freedom of speech. Joe de Bruyn has argued against Labor using a binding vote on the issue. David van Gend's business was graffitied, which included the word "bigot". A university student union called for the cancellation of a lecture, the subject of which was "assumed" to include opposition to marriage equality. At another university when it hosted "an evening with 'Traditional Marriage Champion' Dr. Ryan Anderson PhD" the student union leader said, "because we're a publicly funded university, we have a responsibility to be politically correct and this is not politically correct". The online 'star ratings' and reviews of an international hotel were targeted, however that campaign rebounded. Wendy Francis has said she received "abusive phone calls and emails" in 2012. Lyle Shelton says that he dislikes Bernard Keane calling him a "nauseating piece of filth" on Twitter, and that criticism of a Q&A guest amounts to "vicious attacks". Other issues have included threatening legal action, refusing advertisements. Roman Catholic bishop Anthony Fisher and columnist Paul Kelly have claimed that if same-sex marriage becomes law, there would be concern for future freedom of speech.
In March 2016, Labor leader Bill Shorten committed that the party would oppose any effort to extend discrimination law exemptions to allow people who object to same-sex marriage to deny goods and services to same-sex couples.
Transgender and intersex issues
In the 2001 case Re Kevin – validity of marriage of transsexual, the Family Court of Australia recognised the right of transsexual people to marry according to their current gender as opposed to the gender of their birth; this did not permit same-sex marriage from the perspective of the genders the couple identifies as, but it did mean that a male-to-female transsexual could legally marry a man, and a female-to-male transsexual could legally marry a woman.
In October 2007, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal overturned a decision by the Foreign Affairs Department refusing to issue a transgender woman a passport listing her as female because she is married to a woman. The tribunal ordered that she be issued a passport listing her as female, in accordance with her other official documents, thereby recognising the existence of a marriage between two persons who are legally recognised as female. Marriage equality advocates have noted that where same-sex marriage legislation is unclear on the rights of transgender or intersex people (such as in NSW in 2013), they have asked to ensure that any such legislation delivers marriage equality for all Australians. with intersex people being skeptical of the term same-sex marriage. The concurrent requirement, same-sex divorce law, is being discussed. Transgender divorce represents one challenge.
The 2015 winner of Australia's GLBTI Person of the Year, transgender advocate, Sally Goldner supports marriage equality, as "we're supposed to be about equality and equity" but says marriage equality has become a "bottleneck" that has prevented the airing of other LGBTI issues such as more recognition of "diversity within diversity."
- Australian family law
- Child Support Agency (Australia)
- Family Court of Australia
- Freedom of religion
- LGBT rights in Australia
- Marriage in Australia
- Sexual orientation
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