Are we moving towards same-sex marriage laws?
Same-sex marriage has recently received a lot of media attention.
Under the federal Marriage Act, the definition reads the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Clearly there are supporters for keeping things traditional. But there would also appear to be growing support for changing the legal definition. At the Queensland Labor state conference last week a motion was passed calling for the federal government to introduce equal rights for all adult couples wanting to marry.
Tasmania and South Australia have passed similar motions. Victoria supported same-sex marriage at its 2009 Labor state conference, although at the 2011 conference the motion calling on the federal government to support same-sex marriage wasnt passed.
A number of countries now legally recognise same-sex marriage, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Mexico, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, and many American states.
But for Australian same-sex couples wishing to marry overseas, its not always easy. Some countries require a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage (CNI). The CNI basically gives proof that neither person entering into the marriage is already married, or related, or too young. But the Australian Government wont supply CNIs to same-sex couples; only heterosexual.
Plus, some see it as a pointless exercise if the country they call home wont recognise the marriage. While the ACT, Tasmania, Victoria and NSW allow same-sex couples to enter civil unions, gay lobbyists see the marriage issue as being about acceptance and equality.
In Australia, de facto laws (de facto includes same-sex couples) actually confer pretty much the same legal rights as marriages. De facto couples are subject to the same system of property division if the relationship breaks down. The same inheritance rules apply, the same financial matters are generally recognised (eg. tax and superannuation) and they can apply for de facto visas or Australian citizenship.
But some rules vary state to state. For example, in NSW same-sex couples can now apply to adopt children. Thats also the case in WA, the ACT and Tasmania, but not elsewhere.
And in many countries, legal rights are only recognised if youre married. For example, you may not be allowed to make medical decisions for your partner following an accident overseas, or adopt from overseas.
The ALPs national conference is in December this year and same-sex marriage will clearly be a topic for debate. Julia Gillard doesnt support it, but the Greens do, and their influence in parliament is arguably greater than its ever been. They already have the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill before parliament and want all MPs and Senators to have a conscience vote on this Bill.
What happens there may shape marriage laws in the future.