photo courtesy :Jose a Navas
The topic of same-sex marriage, in light of recent landmark rulings in the US Supreme Court, has become one of the foremost challenging for the Liberal government as it attempts to balance out the demands of society whilst upholding its conservative values. In a recent survey carried out by The Australian, from a group of 1,200 people, 76% stated they would be in favour of a plebiscite to be held prior to the next election. A plebiscite, similar to a referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to vote on a particular proposal, in this particular case the question would centre on same-sex marriage. Advocates of a plebiscite on marriage equality say it would be much cheaper than a referendum and that the High Court has already ruled that Parliament has the power to legislate on the question. However there is also a risk that this referendum may not come into existence as Liberal party and its leader hold traditionalist views on the topic of marriage.
In the year 2008, the Australian government amended 84 laws that discriminated against same-sex couples. Changes were made to several areas ranging from taxation and employment to pension payments in order to provide gay couples with the equivalent rights of a heterosexual couple. The legislation amendments were praised by the Australian Human Rights Commission who stated that these were the initial steps towards full equality recognition for same-sex couples. However, groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby do not want the definition of marriage to be altered to be inclusive of same-sex couples, placing the blame on media for providing outright support for gay couples.
Australia’s Marriage Act
The Marriage Amendment Act 2004 specifies in section 5(1) that marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. Also, further states explicitly in section 88 that a union solemnised in a foreign country between:
(a) a man and another man; or
(b) a woman and another woman;
must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.
However, if amendments are carried out for the Marriage Act, we do not anticipate significant social and legal consequences arising from this change. The Family Law Act already provides for protection for gay couple’s children hence the only impact marriage quality will have is that it will provide for a sense of security, stability and assertion to their children.
The issue of same-sex marriage issue is of great significance to be left just to politicians, the parliament and judges. Hence it is essential that a referendum is held. Through deciding the matter same-sex marriage issue by a referendum this would translate to a timely precedent in modernising Australian democracy for the 21st century.