While the debate over same-sex marriage in the United States rages on, with the tide favoring same-sex marriage over traditionalists, the scene has been mostly quiet in the remaining major English-speaking country, Australia. This is partly due to the passing of a Marriage Amendment Act in 2004 defining traditional marriage, and same-sex couples have most of the same rights as married couples in the country. Now, the first big political move since 2004 has occurred: The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has voted to allow same-sex marriage in their state. The Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, has begun a legal challenge against it, and the real struggle for same-sex marriage in Australia begins anew.
Australia's history with same-sex couples is far less obnoxious than in the United States, but equally messy. The Parliament passed a law, the Marriage Amendment Act, in 2004, around the same time America was considering a Federal Marriage Amendment. The passed Australian law was similar to the proposed constitutional amendment: It defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
However, rather than leaving same-sex couples out of the loop, the Australian government made reforms that aided them. In 2008, the Australian government passed a massive piece of legislation with near-unanimous support that essentially allowed same-sex couples living together to possess the same amount of rights as opposite-sex couples living together. In addition, several states in Australia allow for same-sex civil unions.
This morning, the state legislature of the ACT, which is made up of the Australian capital of Canberra and its immediate vicinity, passed a bill allowing for same-sex marriages to happen in the state. It would be the first state in Australia to let same-sex marriages happen, and is set to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses in December 2013.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott immediately responded to the passing of the bill with a High Court challenge on the constitutionality of the law. Abbott, who represents the conservative Liberal-National Coalition that run the Australian government, is against same-sex marriage, and believes that the ACT has no authority to issue same-sex marriage licenses due the federal Marriage Amendment Act overriding state authority. The ACT is willing to challenge that assumption. Given the constitutionality concerns, it is likely that not only will the ACT face a court case, but a vote in both houses of Parliament on the matter.
Of course, unlike America's struggle, there is a chance Australia will get its act together faster. Australians have consistently supported same-sex marriage by a solid majority over the last five years, according to polls. New South Wales, home to Australia's largest city Sydney, will bring up their own same-sex marriage bill next week. Prime Minister Abbott's challenge also faces opposition very close to home: Abbott's sister Christine Forster, who is openly gay and wishes to marry her long-term partner, is calling for Parliament to bring same-sex marriage to a "conscience vote," meaning that members vote without needing to back their political party. Such a vote allowed for same-sex marriage to remain in Canada, and would likely pass in Australia.
Still, political debates of this nature come with a struggle. So, grab the popcorn and sit back.
(Media Source: Fairfax Media/SMH)