Same-sex marriage in Australia – the debate

It’s one of the biggest political, moral and social debates of our time. But despite the opinions and arguments that are debated in both parliament and across dinner tables country wide, do we really know where same-sex marriage stands in Australia? If you’re having trouble understanding the debate, here’s an outline of the legal recognition of same-sex couples in Australia.

Under current law in Australia, same-sex marriages are not permitted or legally recognised. The Marriage Act defines marriage as “a union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

In 2008 and 2009, however, legislation was passed that gives same-sex couples the same legal rights as those in a heterosexual de facto relationship. And with de facto couples enjoying the same rights as married couples, same-sex couples are also entitled to the same rights when it comes to superannuation, taxation, social security, health, aged care and employment. They are also recognised as a de facto couple in family law, meaning that if a same-sex de facto couple separates, they are able to pursue property settlement before the court in the same way as married and heterosexual de facto couples.

There is still a major push and movement behind legalising same-sex marriage. In 2009, a same-sex marriage bill was introduced by a member of the Australian Greens. The Bill was not passed. Traditionally, both major political parties have opposed same-sex marriage. In 2011, however, following heated debate and a conscience vote by the Labor Party at their National Conference, the Labor Party’s official stance on the project changed to support same-sex marriage.

With the Labor Party’s position on same-sex marriage having changed, there is pressure for the Coalition to also conduct a conscience vote. A Bill to legalise gay marriage in Australia is expected to be put before parliament later this year.

If you’re in a same-sex relationship and want to understand more about your rights and the law as it stands, contact family lawyers. Sydney and other Australian cities have a number of experience family law specialists to choose from.

The same-sex marriage debate is an interesting one, because it attracts attention from a broad range of Australians. While it remains to be seen whether same-sex marriage becomes legalised in Australia, it is certainly a key political and social issue for 2012!

The above post was done in collaboration with Watts McCray.

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