The Australian government will soon ask voters whether the law should allow same-sex couples to marry in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.
Unfortunately, misinformation persists about the likely impact of amending the Federal Marriage Act if most Australians reply ‘Yes’.
I come to the marriage equality debate with my own biases, knowledge, and experiences.
Professionally, I have a law degree with first-class honours, graduating from the Australian National University with the Prize for Commonwealth Constitutional Law.
For 3 years, I helped to edit an encyclopedia on the High Court, The Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia (2001), and for 7 years I worked with senior lawyers on some high profile cases, including landmark constitutional cases.
As for my personal life, my parents raised me in a strict Roman Catholic household. I dutifully attended church every Sunday until age 38.
I was a member of the Liberal Party of Australia in 1993 and again in 2010.
Against this brief background, I present my responses, as factually as I can, to dispel some of the most misinformed commentary spreading around the Internet and the mainstream media about same-sex marriage in Australia.
Here are nine of the most persistent myths about same-sex marriage in Australia.
Myth 1: ‘Gays already have legal equality!’
In 2008, federal legislative amendments corrected a lot of the legal inequality that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people faced in Australia. But those amendments can go only part way while the law denies the legal status of marriage to LGBTI people.
The status of ‘being married’ cascades through not only federal laws but also State and Territory laws across many subjects, such as succession and property. When people marry, they acquire an automatic bundle of legal rights (and responsibilities) that come with ‘marriage’:
- under s12 of the Succession Act 2006, the ‘marriage’ of the person who makes a will automatically revokes that will;
- under s13 of the Married Persons (Equality of Status) Act 1996, if a ‘married person’ invests money belonging to the person’s spouse without obtaining the consent of the spouse, then the spouse can apply to the Supreme Court to have the money transferred to him or her; and
- under paragraph 4(1)(b) of the Property (Relationships) Act 1984, ‘de facto couple’ excludes couples who are ‘married’.
The status of ‘being married’ thus triggers legal consequences, and these few examples come from just one State.
For a real life example of the inequality LGBTI people face (this time in Tasmania), consider the circumstances that gay man Ben faced when he couldn’t organise (or even attend) his deceased partner Nathan’s funeral.
When a person marries, they become the spouse’s next of kin. But, in Ben’s case, authorities failed to recognise Ben as Nathan’s next of kin. Instead, Nathan’s estranged mum took over Nathan’s funeral arrangements. If Ben and Nathan had been married under Australian law, then no doubt about their kinship would have existed.
The legal inequality still facing LGBTI Australians provides one reason the Australian Medical Association supports marriage equality: