Social Commentary

Same Sex Marriage in Australia

Welcome back to Deep Mondays everyone!

Now, it seems kind of ridiculous that this even qualifies to be a Deep Monday post, because it’s a remarkably simple concept. Currently, Australia—as one of the only western nations in the world in which same sex marriage (SSM) is not legal—is organising a postal ballot in order to have people vote on whether they want to legalise SSM. The reason that this shouldn’t actually qualify as a ‘Deep Monday’ post is because the answer seems—to me, and to a lot of other people—incredibly simple. In fact, that’s part of what makes writing this blog post kind of difficult, because when the solution to a situation appears pretty self-evident to you, it’s kind of challenging to articulate precisely why your answer is the ‘correct’ one.

But if you’re a blogger, and you care about social justice and the rights of humanity, then I really don’t see any way in which you could not be driven to comment on this particular issue. And here I am.

So… Same Sex Marriage. Far out, where to start? I guess a good place is to consider what is going to change if SSM becomes legal in Australia.

  1. Same sex couples will get married. 

Huh. That was pretty simple. One can only hope the rest of the blog post will be that easy, because then it’s just going to write itself (and considering that I’m officially on uni break right now and have a really great book that I want to read, that would be kind of awesome). But, unfortunately, there’s a whole heap of other facets that need to be considered, and a lot of rather ridiculous myths to be debunked. With that in mind, I want to start with a bit of history: complete with a few different sources about Australia’s path to marriage equality.

Anyone living in Aus is liable to be well aware of the infamous changes to the Marriage Act in 2004, at which point in time, then-PM John Howard and his conservative government altered the existing legislation to define marriage as: “the union of a man and a woman.” Now, while this in and of itself may not form the lynchpin for preventing SSM, it is a massive indicator of both the prevalent sociocultural attitudes at that point in time, and the significant period of time it’s taken in Australia to push for that change to be rescinded and SSM made legal. (It is also interesting to note that this 2004 decision did not require a plebiscite, but was made without consulting the Australian public). There are various news articles from 2004 here, here, and here–the first of these also illustrates the ramifications of the Howard Government’s decision in 2004, including a refusal to recognise the legitimacy of SSMs entered into under another country’s constitution, and a simultaneous change to the Family Law Act, serving to increase the difficulties of same-sex couples looking to adopt children from overseas. For anyone curiously as to precisely what was amended in 2004, the Federal Register of Legislation has those details here and if you head here, you can check out precisely what the submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee looked like.

The submission openly notes that the intended changes are to the detriment of gay and lesbian Australians, remarking “It is perhaps unfortunate that measures of little apparent utility are being pursued in a manner which has been reported to have caused at least some gay and lesbian Australians to feel targeted.” I haven’t been able to resist—with mounting indignation and anger—including a few tidbits from this document, because it serves to illustrate some vitally important points in the SSM debate::

16. Australia has extensive legal recognition of heterosexual unmarried relationships: ‘With very few exceptions, cohabiting heterosexual partners are on a par with married spouses in terms of their legal rights and obligations.'(23)

17. …Where legislation does not define what is meant by ‘spouse’, courts have interpreted the term mean someone who could be married but is not married, that is, a heterosexual person who is unmarried cohabiting with a partner.

18. … defining ‘spouse’ in this way excludes same sex couples, and results in differential and often detrimental treatment for same sex couples as opposed to unmarried heterosexual couples… same-sex partners… are excluded from pension benefits under law, [while] unmarried heterosexual partners, are granted [these] benefits.— It is thus clear that there is evidence that unmarried persons of the same sex as their deceased partner had been denied access to their veteran’s pension, where married and unmarried heterosexual couples hadn’t been so disadvantaged.

20. Despite recognition by the Government, same sex couples continue to encounter financial and legal discrimination in the areas of health care,(35) property settlements, pension entitlements, industrial relations, the defence forces, social security, aged care, estates and other areas. Many State and Territory laws also discriminate against same sex couples. For example, an audit undertaken by the South Australian Equal Opportunity Commission in 2003 found that 54 laws in South Australia treat same-sex couples differently from opposite-sex couples.(36) This discrimination affects both same sex couples and their children.

These issues were openly acknowledged in 2004, including the risk to same-sex couples who weren’t provided with the same scope of recognition as married heterosexual couples, and a significant proportion of these barrier remain extant today. It is patently unjust, and an infringement on the civil rights of same sex couples, to not be entitled to the same treatment as heterosexual couples… Especially in the event of their partner’s death. That is repugnant.

Now, there are, unfortunately but also inescapable, a ridiculously large number of inane and pointless articles going around about the inane and pointless things that various humans have said. (Case in point is this real doozy of a statement from the Liberal MP for Menzies, Kevin Andrews, attempting to equate his friendships with his cycling buddies to same sex marriage). Sadly for all of us, that’s just part of living in a world infected by the predominance of the media in every aspect of life; if you find obstinacy and narrow-mindedness frustrating, I’d suggest avoiding some of these articles. 

The Impact of SSM

It seems fairly ridiculous to put this title in this blog post, but I don’t think it can be avoided. And the reason I say that, is there are scores and scores of people commenting on any form of social media they can find, and—in a move reminiscent of The Simpsons’ Helen Lovejoy—howling at the top of their keyboard lungs: “WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!” I mean, those same people are also saying a loooooot of other shit, but that’s a big one. That and ‘perverting the nature of marriage,’ but the incredible danger posed to children who have two parents of the same gender is one of the crowd favourites.

My big question is: “What precisely do you think will happen to those children raised by same sex parents?”

There are, of course, a range of strange, ludicrous and downright offensive answers to that question; but those answers aren’t actually that important. After all, anyone can pull together any number of articles from various nooks and crannies of the internet which support their argument. (This article which draws attention to a study that claims to debunk those other studies which propose that same-sex parents are detrimental for children… It also points out that there is “no peer-reviewed, scientifically-accepted study finding that gay parents do disadvantage their children”). With that previous parentheses in mind, it is worth considering that, in the various anti-LGBT studies which find that the children of same-sex couples are ‘at a social detriment’ to the children of heterosexual couples, that none of these studies account for sociocultural factors in the lives of these children. By this, I mean that I’d love to see studies which evaluates the ‘disadvantages’ for children of same-sex parents in relation to the social prejudice they face; are they ‘disadvantaged’ (I’m putting that word in inverted commas because I believe it’s bullshit) because their parents are of the same sex, or because other people are assholes about their parents being of the same sex, and the child is bullied, maligned, ostracised, or otherwise socially excluded? That is a study I’d like to see.

Secondly, of all of those people terrified about the impacts of SSM on children everywhere (so weird, I just can’t get over that concept)… I just can’t figure out why they aren’t half as concerned about the insidious and catastrophic effects of domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and discrimination (on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification) as they are about what gender—not what kind of person they are, but purely what gender—that child’s parents are.

It’s becoming far more widely-known now that underage marriage is occurring in contemporary Australia: why aren’t these people protesting on the streets about pre-teen children being forced into marriage? If you are really concerned about child welfare, then you should be fostering children who have been removed from unsuitable homes; you should be getting involved in programs–such as Barnados Australia–that aim to build support and strong social bonds for children who are vulnerable, who come from poverty, who through no fault of their own are not able to live the privileged life many other children can; you should be donating to or volunteering with various organisations for bettering the lives of children, such as The Smith Family. And look… If you’re not doing any of those things, but you’re still on your high horse about “how same-sex marriage is SO BAD for the children,” then maybe you should consider whether that’s really the reason you’re so vehemently opposed to it.

Finally: Problems with the ‘Plebiscite’ Itself

There are a few doozies about the postal ballot that have been covered in detail in various social media posts and newspaper ; however, they’re worth recapping briefly here, because of the implications of the nature of the ballot.

  1. It’s incredibly expensive. It is estimated that the postal ballot will cost the Australian Government  approximately $122 millions dollars.
  2. It’s not binding: even if 100% of people were to vote ‘yes’ in favour of same sex marriage, the Australian Government would still be under no obligation to change legislation to allow same sex marriage.
  3. As numerous parties have noted— —this postal ballot will possibly have the unfortunate and ugly side-effect of encouraging those who are strongly opposed to the idea of SSM (and thus, by extension, very probably opposed to the LGBTQI+ community in general) to openly and vociferously air their issues with SSM and the LGBTQI+ community at large. Considering the incredibly painful, divisive and harmful sociocultural issues faced by LGBTQI+ individuals, this seems like just another chance for bigots and homophobes to use this situation as a platform with which to monopolise social discourse with their hateful rhetoric.

With all of these factors in mind, it’s not overly surprising perhaps that there have been numerous mentions of boycotting the ballot in a wide array of forums. But while this vote isn’t binding, it is a chance for good people everywhere to turn out in support of the rights of our LGBTQI+ community, who deserve compassion, love, happiness, and humanity as much as any of the rest of Australia.

And lastly, in signing off of this fairly long post, I just want to say this: if you are heterosexual and have never been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, then you (and I) have no way of conceptualising how that feels. But what it amounts to is an innate judgement call someone else has made that you are less than they are: and that’s fundamentally wrong. Prejudice, as I have noted in another blog post, is inescapable: it shapes us from childhood, it forms part of our marrow. But we get to choose who we are, and how we act. And you can choose, today, that love and happiness are more important than ‘how things have always been done’ or ‘it’s not natural’—you get to make that choice.

It’s cool if you don’t want to be gay: no one is forcing you to kiss someone of the same sex if you don’t want to. No one is ever going to ask you to marry someone of the opposite sex: you never have to do that. But deliberately and obstinately standing in the way of someone else’s happiness and personal/financial security, for no other reason than that you nebulously ‘don’t like it’, is a bit of a joke. Love is love, and people deserve to be happy in whatever way they can in this messed up world we all inhabit.


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