What’s the issue?
For many of us, all that is standing in the way of a three tier wedding cake and the words ‘I do’ is finding that special someone to say ‘I do’ back. However many people in Australia might never get a chance to throw the bouquet – whether they want to or not. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons are often restricted to expressing their love and commitment through civil unions, and even these are not available in every state and territory.
Civil union versus marriage – what’s the difference?
Being married to someone binds you in more ways than just being obligated to share the remote and pretending you like each other’s cooking. Being married is a unique legal status which is recognised by all governments around the world. It establishes your spouse as a next-of-kin, which is as good as a blood relative. In almost all legal matters, from medical decision-making to property rights to funeral arrangements, your next-of-kin has an official say.
In theory, civil unions are designed to give couples the same rights that marriages do. Yet, unlike marriage unions, the legal rights given to same-sex couples vary from state to state. In some states, partners in civil unions are only given property rights, while in other states, they can legally adopt children. While you can get married anywhere from Vegas to Vanuatu – civil unions are only offered in very specific places.
Civil unions are also restrictive in that they are not necessarily portable. You may be viewed official ‘life partners’ in Tasmania, but cross over to the mainland and you’re back to square one. There is also the problem of ending civil unions. Often there is no legislation which allows for the divorce
of a same-sex couple.
Those in favour of same-sex marriages view the issue as a simple case of human rights. They believe that not allowing gay persons to marry is like systematically excluding them from society and its institutions. Legally, advocates believe that withholding the ability for same-sex couples to adopt, share property or have an official say in a partner’s legal and medical matters is a severe violation of human rights.
Those who oppose same-sex marriage think that they will have a negative effect on society by destroying the concept of the traditional family. Many people also believe that legalising same-sex marriage could lead to increased sexual promiscuity and confusion over sexual identity in young people.
One of the biggest arguments is that since marriage was originally constructed as a means for having children, same-sex couples should not be part of the system.
What do Australians think?
A 2007 opinion poll run by GetUp! asked 1100 Australians over 16 what they thought about same-sex unions. Seventy one per cent agreed that same-sex partners should have the same rights as de-facto heterosexual couples (man/woman partners who are unmarried). Fifty seven per cent supported same-sex marriage. This is an increase of 20 per cent since the last poll taken in 2004.
What’s the deal in Australia?
In Australia, there are three states and territories where civil unions have been legislated. These are Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria. In Victoria, the Relationships Act
will only come into effect in December 2008. In South Australia you can be recognised as ‘domestic partners’. While these unions are expected to be legally recognised by the federal government in 2009, at the moment they only give rise to rights and entitlements in their specific states and territories.
Religious institutions can choose whether to perform same-sex ceremonies, but the unions will bring no additional rights unless they come under legal ‘civil unions’.
Liberal and Labor (our two main political parties) are both opposed to complete legal equality for same-sex couples. Liberal supports the idea of financial equality for gay couples, but opposes marriage and the right to IVF and adoption. Labor doesn’t mind ‘civil unions’ as long as there is no same-sex marriage.
In August 2008, new Labor senator Louise Pratt called for gay marriages to be legalised. Pratt is a lesbian with a transgender partner and feels strongly about this issue despite a full awareness of her party’s current policy.
The Democrats and the Greens both support all forms of gay rights including marriage. In Tasmania, the Greens (whose leader is the openly gay politician Bob Brown) recently proposed a Same-Sex Marriage Act
(2008). The bill is yet to be passed.
What’s being done to combat discrimination?
On 21 June 2007, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
(HREOC) released a report called Same Sex: Same Entitlements
. The Commission found 58 Commonwealth law statutes and provisions that discriminate against same-sex couples by using the term 'member of the opposite sex'.
Now the pressure is on for the Australian government to ensure equal rights for all Australians – but it won’t be easy with so much disagreement, emotion and controversy surrounding the issue.
This page was updated by kate elise
How do I know this?
Australian Marriage Equality http://www.australianmarriageequality.com/
Dobson, J, 'Eleven arguments against same-sex marriage', Citizenlink http://www.family.org/cforum/extras/a0032427.cfm
John, R. 'Free to love…same-sex marriage', Independent Church of Australia http://www.ica.org.au/962gay1.html
Karvelas, Patricia, ‘Labor’s new gay senator Louise Pratt calls for same sex marriage’, The Australian (August 29 2008) http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24259191-5013871,00.html
Lesbian Life, 'Civil unions vs. gay marriage' http://lesbianlife.about.com/cs/wedding/a/unionvma
ReligiousTolerance.org, ‘Recent developments in homosexual (same-sex) marriages & unions’, http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_marf.htm
Who, Stewart, "Australia region OKs civil unions" http://www.gay.com/news/article.html?2006/05/12/2
Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, Same-sex marriage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage
Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, Same-sex marriage in Australia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in