Breaking: Australia passes marriage equality law

7 December 2017

Breaking: Australia passes marriage equality law

Photo credit: Australian Associated Press.

The issue of marriage equality has finally been resolved in Australia, after the federal Parliament passed legislation on Tuesday to allow two people to marry regardless of their sex or gender.

After four days of debates and discussion of many proposed amendments, the House of Representatives voted in favour of the Bill on Thursday evening. The Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 received Royal Assent on Friday, and will commence either on a day set by proclamation of the Governor-General or four weeks from the date of Assent, whichever is sooner.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, “we have voted today for equality, for love, it is time for more marriages, more commitment, more love, more respect, and we respect every Australian who voted — those who voted yes, and those who voted no. This belongs to us all, this is Australia!”

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten declared: “The Australia of tomorrow begins with what we do today. At long last, LGBTIQ Australians will be equal under the law. This … is not a gift from us to LGBTIQ Australians. Equality is the legal birthright of every Australian and this equality is long overdue.”

A relieved Adam Bandt, speaking on behalf of the Greens, concluded that “love has won and it is time to pop the bubbly! [I]t is time to let the bells ring and let the people sing because love has won!”

This will come as a great relief to many, regardless of their views, as it brings to a close months of heated public discussion and years of campaigning. It will be even more of a relief for those couples who will soon be able to marry, and couples whose overseas marriages will be recognised in Australia.

Having passed the Senate last Thursday, the Bill was introduced to the House of Representatives on Monday where it was debated at length. During the debate Liberal backbencher Tim Wilson proposed to his partner Ryan Bolger, as the Hansard records:

Mr TIM WILSON: This debate has been the soundtrack to our relationship. We both know this issue isn’t the reason we got involved in politics … but in my first speech I defined our bond by the rings that sit on both of our left hands, and that they are the answer to the question we cannot ask. So there’s only one thing left to do: Ryan Patrick Bolger, will you marry me?

A response having been received from the gallery —

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rob Mitchell): I should note for the Hansard that that was a yes, a resounding yes. Congratulations; well done mate.

The Bill makes relatively minor adjustments to the Marriage Act 1961 and other legislation, essentially removing the barriers to marriage for all couples while permitting ministers of religion to refuse to solemnise marriages that go against their beliefs. It will also allow religious organisations to refuse to provide goods, services or facilities for marriages on the basis of religious grounds. OPMG has published a detailed analysis of the Bill.

The path toward marriage equality in Australia has been a rocky one, with Parliament being deadlocked for some time over the issue of whether to hold a plebiscite on the matter. Without the support of the Senate, the Government was unable to enact the required legislation to hold a plebiscite in accordance with its policy and pre-election promise. In the end, the Government held a non-binding, voluntary survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in which almost 62% of respondents said they were in favour of marriage equality.

Australia is one of the last remaining English-speaking countries to legislate for marriage equality, behind Canada in 2005; South Africa in 2006; New Zealand in 2013; England & Wales and Scotland both in 2014; and the United States and the Republic of Ireland both in 2015. It joins the growing number of countries that have established marriage equality, which this year also added Finland, Germany and Malta.