Last month, US President Barack Obama formally voiced his support for same-sex marriage. Since then, the topic has been heavily debated in media headlines, political forums and very discussed at pubs and around dining tables. Most recently, the NSW Parliament has had Greens MP Cate Faehrmann bring forth a motion calling on the federal government to legalise same sex marriage; this motion was passed with a vote of 22 to 16 in favour on 31 May.
State Parliaments in Tasmania, the ACT and now NSW have all passed motions calling for the Federal Government to amend the Marriage Act allowing for same-sex marriages. Three separate gay-marriage bills were put forward to the Federal Parliament earlier this year and are still under Senate inquiry with findings expected to be released mid-year.
The state motions add pressure to Federal MPs as they prepare to formally vote on the bills after the inquiry findings are released. Adding to the burden of their considerations is the decision by the ALP to give MPs a conscience vote on the issue of gay marriage. This means that instead of having a firm Labor party line on the matter (usually the one voiced by the party leader), individual members will cast votes independently.
What is the current state of affairs for gay couples?
On a national level, reforms to Australian law regarding same-sex couples came into effect in March 2009. The reforms ensured that same-sex couples and their families are recognised and have the same entitlements as opposite-sex de facto couples when it came to issues such as health care, child support, workers compensation, veterans’ entitlements and social security.
Meanwhile, civil unions between same-sex couples are currently recognised on a state by state basis:
- Tasmania (since 2004) – allows registration of unions with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and has officially recognised ceremonies for same-sex civil unions since 2009.
- ACT (since 2008) – allows for registration of unions with the option for the Deputy Registrar-General to conduct a commitment ceremony.
- Victoria (2008) – couples are able to register their relationship with the registrar. Victoria does not currently officiate ceremonies or recognise interstate unions.
- NSW (early 2010) – allows couples to register and recognises interstate unions. Does not facilitate official civil union ceremonies.
- Queensland (early 2012) – allows couples to register their relationship and allows for official ceremonies.
Civil unions are available to same-sex couples as well as for opposite-sex couples as an alternative to marriage. However, the decision on civil marriages for same-sex couples must be made on the Federal level with a formal amendment to the Marriage Act.
Do you think recent events have changed landscape of the debate? Do you think the Federal Government will pass an amendment that allows for same-sex marriage?