Marriage equality has arrived in Australia. Now let’s put the issue to rest.
I’m a naturalised Australian living abroad, and I’m gay. My fellow Australian citizens, both queer and straight, just voted in favour of marriage equality. They spoke decisively, 62% in favour to 38% against. That’s great news, indeed.
Many regarded the result as a foregone conclusion. In my observation, most Australians—even those who voted against it—fully expected their nation eventually to take its place among liberal western democracies, and embrace change. So much so, that Equality Australia, who ran the official Yes campaign, adopted the mildly impatient slogan Let’s Get It Done.
One can understand their testiness. Already, LGBT partnerships fall under the jurisdiction of common-law marriage, which most Australians refer to as de-facto marriage. The common law covers tax, social security assessments, joint property rights, and child support. This allowed gay couples to slip into modern Australian life with a minimum of fuss.
What difference does “marriage” make? Under Australian law, a small but important one. It enables end-of-life medical authority and recognition of one’s spouse on a death certificate. While it affects only a small number of couples every year, such a gap in rights causes enormous hardship at a distressing time.
The broader community would scarcely detect the upgrade from common-law to statutory marriage for gays and lesbians. Why has it taken so long?
What’s the big deal?
As always, the crux of the issue is power.
The indispensable David Marr offers much lucid comment the equality debate. He reminds us that conservative churches—the engine of the No campaign—have fought and lost almost every battle for moral authority that affects modern Australians.
First came relaxed censorship in the late 60s. Then no-fault divorce in 1975, which benefited my mother greatly and saved our family from both protracted misery and likely financial ruin. Tasmania finally decriminalised gay sex in 1997, the last state to do so. The year before, Tasmanians had elected Bob Brown to the Australian Senate, a gay man out since 1976.