Is gay marriage equality imminent in Australia?
To date twenty-one nations around the world have legalised gay marriage, most recently in the United States via a historic Supreme Court ruling and in Ireland by public referendum. However, in Australia there seems to be a lack of willingness to debate marriage equality – from either its advocates or opponents.
This is highlighted in a fascinating new paper published in Australian Geographer by Professor Gordon Waitt (University of Wollongong), which discusses how Australian politicians continue to dismiss legislative recognition of same-sex marriage because it is thought to cause the demise of social mores, or is at best considered unimportant.
Homosexuality finally ceased to be criminal in Australia in 1997, and then over a decade later the Same-sex Relationship Bill 2008 became law, protecting gay couples from discrimination in employment, taxation, social security and over 50 other Commonwealth laws.
Despite this recognition, same-sex unions do not enjoy the same social and legal status as heterosexual marriage. Furthermore, gay couples who are married legally abroad are not recognised in Australia. The (former) Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has dodged the issue stating that he “supports the current policy that marriage is between a man and a woman. The government’s priority is strong economic management and keeping Australians safe.”
In 2004 the Howard Coalition government amended the official definition of marriage, in the Marriage Act 1961, to be: “[a] voluntary entered-into union of a man and a woman to exclusion of all others.” As a consequence of this change in language, legal protections and rights provided by marriage remain based on inherent gendered and sexed assumptions.
Australian national interests and political dialogue remain entrenched in heterosexuality, which ultimately shapes public notions of love, family, sexuality and citizenship in Australia. Supporters of gay marriage have called for social acceptance for loving and loyal partnerships of any orientation, urging less debate and more action.
In July 2015 a Liberal MP has moved a cross-party marriage equality private member's bill into the federal parliament, which also has cross-bench support. In the face of opposition from Conservative MPs and the Prime Minister, this bill may force a discussion of a conscious vote on marriage equality within the Australian Liberal Party, which may in time lead to wider parliamentary debate on this issue.
However, in the meantime Waitt advocates for geographers to illuminate critical insights on taken-for-granted social norms and to open up debates about new possibilities and social realities. Waitt concludes: “Geographers are well positioned to step up to this challenge and actively engage in debates where love need not be framed by monogamy, family is not framed by biology, and citizenship is not framed by marriage, but by friendship.”
Please reference the article as “I Do? On geography, marriage and love in Australia”, by Gordon Waitt, Australian Geographer, 2015, published by Taylor & Francis Group. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00049182.2015.1075267
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