Opponents of marriage equality often say that married and de facto couples already have the same rights. To what extent is this true? And, in legal terms, how much do the differences matter?
In an opinion piece last week, former prime minister Tony Abbott claimed:
Already, indeed, same-sex couples in a settled domestic relationship have exactly the same rights as people who are married.
This isn’t true.
At the most fundamental level, same-sex couples do not have the right to marry and therefore do not have “marriage equality”. While de facto couples may be able to assert some of the same rights as married couples, they often have to expend significant time, money and unnecessary heartache to do so.
Marriage allows people to access a complete package of rights simply by showing their marriage certificate or ticking a box, and is based on their mutual promises to one another rather than proving their relationship meets particular interdependency criteria.
Unlike de facto relationships, marriage is recognised nationally and internationally.
Differences under law
The laws regarding de facto couples differ between states and the Commonwealth, and from one right to another.
For Centrelink purposes, you are a de facto couple from the moment you start living together; for migration law it is after 12 months of cohabiting (unless you have a child together or de facto relationships are illegal in your country of origin).
Under family law it is different again: a minimum of two years (unless you have a child together, have registered your relationship, or have made significant contributions to the relationship).