No 8 Marriage Equality Marches on Around the World

In contrast to the lack of sustained progress in Australia, internationally marriage equality continued its onwards march in 2013. In fact, we end the year with approximately 10% of the world’s population now living in jurisdictions where same-sex couples are able to get married.

That seemed like an impossible goal five years ago, let alone way back in 2001 when the Netherlands had the somewhat radical (but in reality also rather conservative) idea that all couples should be allowed to wed, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

In 2013, marriage equality became a reality for couples in Brazil (16 May), France (18 May), Uruguay (5 August) and New Zealand (19 August). Which means 15 countries now treat all of their couples equally. It should also be noted that England and Wales also passed marriage equality during the year, although it won’t commence until March 29 2014 (NB Given Scotland has yet to pass marriage equality, and it looks unlikely to pass Northern Ireland, I do not include the United Kingdom in the number of countries with full equality).

There was just as much progress in the United States – both through the courts, and through legislatures around the country.

First, to the two momentous decisions of the US Supreme Court, both handed down on 26 June. In one, plaintiff Edith Windsor (a phenomenal woman, and deserved nominee for Time Person of the Year) was successful in her case that the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress and signed by then President Bill Clinton back in 1996, was in fact unconstitutional.

The Court declared DOMA to be “a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment”. The consequence of this decision is that the US Federal Government is compelled to recognise the validity, and entitlements, of couples who are married under various state laws providing marriage equality around the country.

In the second decision, the Supreme Court struck down California’s Proposition 8 from 2008, a ballot initiative which had outlawed same-sex marriages just five months after they commenced in June of that year. The Supreme Court, in Hollingsworth v Perry found that the appeal, by people seeking to uphold the marriage ban, did not have standing meaning that a lower court ruling, reinstating marriage equality, stood. Californian same-sex marriages resumed shortly after this decision.

Probably more important has been the ongoing moves to introduce marriage equality through state legislatures. The year started with marriage equality taking effect in Maryland on 1 January, and it was followed by Delaware (1 July), Minnesota (1 August), Rhode Island (1 August), New Jersey (21 October – although this was largely the result of a state court case, after the Governor had previously vetoed marriage equality legislation), and Hawaii (2 December), with Illinois to commence formally on 1 June next year (although couples where a partner has a serious illness can marry now).

This is remarkable progress – and underscores just how conservative Australia is by comparison. After all, if roughly one third of US states (plus DC) have already introduced marriage equality, and with progress in Australia looking several more years away, we have well and truly cemented our place as the backwater of the Anglo-sphere on this issue.

In fact, Australia, with last week’s High Court decision overturning the ACT’s same-sex marriage laws, has provided one of the few ‘lowlights’ of the global marriage equality movement. The other that springs immediately to mind was the recent referendum in Croatia which, by a margin of 65% to 35%, voted to enshrine the definition of marriage as “a living union of a woman and a man” in that country’s constitution. Shame.

Leaving Australia and Croatia aside, though, the prospects for continued global progress on marriage equality look assured. It is highly likely that Scotland will pass equality early next year, and, after its elections this week, there is a good chance of Chile following suit (which would make it the fourth South American country to do so). I am sure that other countries, and more US states, will also take the plunge in the next 12 months.

Which leaves LGBTI-inclusive couples in Australia with a helluva lot more choices in overseas places where they can get married. Which is all very nice and well, but what we really want is the ability to marry at home, in front of our family and friends. Til then, we will continue to fall further and further behind the rest of the world.

I was going to end there but, contrary to my usual nature, I will instead sign off with my personal highlight of global marriage equality in 2013 – and that was the moment that marriage equality passed across the Tasman, and in particular the singing of a traditional Maori love song immediately afterwards. I challenge you to watch this and not get chills down your spine:

UPDATE: Just 3 days after I posted this, and two more US states have legalised same-sex marriage – New Mexico and Utah – bringing the total number to 18 (plus DC). With this rate of progress it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of developments, which, as an LGBTI activist, is a wonderful (and somewhat novel), problem to have. May it continue into 2014.

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