Same Sex Marriage in Australia

On the 9th of December 2017, Australia became the 26th country in the world to recognize same-sex marriages as being legal. The Marriage Amendment Act 2017 was passed on the 7th of December 2017 before receiving royal assent the following day. The law was finally approved after several years of previous failed attempts and followed a voluntary postal survey. 61.6% of Australians that responded were in favor of the change.

Prior to the legislation of the act in 2017, it had previously been rejected 22 times by the Federal Parliament between September 2004 and May 2017. In August 2004 the Howard Government amended the law to exclude same-sex marriages. In December 2013 the Australian Capital Territory passed a same-sex marriage law although this was rejected by the High Court that claimed only the Commonwealth could introduce such a law.

Marriage Act 1961

The Marriage Act has been in effect since 1961 and governed the laws and regulations of marriage in Australia. The Amendment Act in 2004 was introduced by the then Attorney-General Philip Ruddock as

‘the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.’

The bill banned the recognition of any same-sex marriages even if they were entered into within other jurisdictions. Ruddock and his Liberal supporters claimed the bill was necessary to protect marriage and its institution and ensured the definition of ‘common law’ was put beyond any legal definition. Despite receiving support from the major parties it was contested by groups such as human rights groups and some of the smaller political parties. It was opposed by the Green party who claimed it was the ‘Marriage Discrimination Act’.  Senator Bob Brown claimed that Australia had a ‘straight policy’.

Amendment Act 2017

A private senator’s bill was introduced into Parliament by Senator Dean Smith to alter the definition of marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples. This was after support of over 61.6% of Australians that responded to an Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. The bill was amended to omit the words ‘man and a woman’ and replaced with the gender neutral definition of ‘two people’. The amendment passed the Senate on November 29th by 43 votes to 12. It then went to the House of Representatives where on December 7th it passed with 131 votes in favor and 4 against.

Definition of Marriage

As a result of the amendment, the Australian definition of marriage now reads as:

‘Marriage means the union of two people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’.

A celebrant is now required to say these words, within every marriage ceremony, so that the marriage will be legal.

Dual Nationality

Couples that are one British and one Australian or those holding dual nationality have been able to marry within British Embassies and consulates within Australia. Same-sex couples have been able to do this since March 2014 when it became legal in the UK. Between June 2014 and October 2017 there were 445 same-sex marriages that took place in the diplomatic offices belonging to Britain across Australia.

Exemption of One Month Waiting Period

Same-sex marriages that were legally registered overseas were automatically registered from the 9th of December 2017 and the first weddings were booked in to take place on the 9th of January 2018 after the one-month waiting period. There were a lot of couples who applied successfully for an exemption to the one-month wait and the first legal same-sex wedding in Australia took place on the 15th of December 2017 with several more weddings taking place the following day.

Localised Opinions

On the 1st of January 2018, of the 546 local governments in Australia 62 had passed formal motions in favor of legalised same-sex marriage, while 2 had rejected the motion. 30% of Australians, when questioned at the end of January 2018 had said that this legislation was the single most important historic event to have happened in their lifetime.

Religious Opinion

Most of the major religious organizations within Australia do not allow same-sex marriages to take place within their place of worship. Some Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist centers do perform ceremonies for same-sex marriages. In July 2018, the Uniting Church will be voting on whether or not to allow same-sex marriages to take place inside their churches. If it is approved it will be the first Christian denomination in Australia to allow this.

Conclusion-Legally Married

During the first month of same-sex marriages being legal in Australia, 370 couples were married with New South Wales having the highest recorded figure of 142, this amounted to 9% of all the marriages in that state during that period. Within two months of same-sex marriage becoming legal, there had been 159 marriages in Queensland between same-sex couples.