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.

New Zealand Marriage Equality Submission

The following is my submission to the New Zealand Parliamentary Inquiry into their marriage equality legislation. I think that it is a fantastic initiative of their parliament to allow submissions from Australia, and I hope that they pass equality later this year or early next year, even if it casts an even larger shadow over the performance of our parliamentarians on this issue.


First, as a citizen of Australia I would like to thank the Parliament of New Zealand for allowing people from across the Tasman to make a submission to your inquiry on the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill 2012.

This is an important inquiry on legislation which has the ability to affect a wide range of people, not just in New Zealand, but also from other countries in the region.

I am one of those people who could potentially be affected. I am a 34 year old gay man living in Sydney with my partner of more than four years, Steven. We have been engaged to be married for almost three of those four years (I proposed to him at the beginning of 2010, and to my eternal happiness he said yes).

However, as you would be aware, the Parliament of Australia voted in 2004 to ban same-sex and gender diverse marriages, and extended this ban to apply to couples wishing to get married in other countries (by deciding not to issue certificates of no impediment to same-sex and gender diverse couples).

Even worse, as I am sure you are also aware, the Australian Parliament recently voted to reconfirm its opposition to marriage equality, and did so by a large margin (98 to 42 in the House of Representatives), meaning that marriage equality is unlikely to be recognised within Australia (at least at the federal level) for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, there was a brighter moment early in 2012 when the Australian Attorney-General, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP, overturned the previous ban on the issuing of certificates of no impediment. This means that, despite being denied the right to marry in our own country, there is now no legal obstacle to our getting married in those countries where it is legal.

But there are other obstacles. While we can choose to get married in a range of countries, they are all some distance from Australia. This means that any option to get married for Steven and I would be expensive. Much more importantly, it means that any option to get married overseas would likely to be too far and too expensive for most of our family members and friends to come along with us and be there for our special day. And we both have elderly grandmothers for whom travelling to Europe, North America, South America or South Africa would be out of the question.

For Steven and I, and countless other couples like us in Australia, this is a heartbreaking decision. We can either legally get married in another country, but do so in the absence of the special people in our lives, or choose to wait many years before we can get married in our own country, and risk people like our grandmothers no longer being with us.

The legislation which is currently being considered by your Parliament might provide an opportunity for couples like us to be able to travel to our neighbour, and get married with many more of the special people in our lives being able to join us. I believe that many couples would make the same decision that we would – if marriage equality were to be legalised in New Zealand, and available to citizens of Australia, we would seek to get married in your country.

Some people might try to make an economic or financial argument based on this fact (ie that same-sex and gender diverse marriages from across the Tasman would provide a windfall to New Zealand). I do not support this proposition because fundamental human rights should never be determined by whether a nation benefits from it financially.

However, I do make the argument that, by legislating for marriage equality, and allowing same-sex and gender diverse couples within New Zealand, and from around the region including Australia, to get married, you would be substantially increasing human happiness. There are few moments where politicians have the opportunity to do that so decisively – by voting yes, you would not just bring happiness to the couples getting married but also to the family members and friends who finally get to celebrate that fact.

This submission may seem somewhat self-interested – after all I am putting forward my case as to why I should be able to access a legal right in your country. But it is also selfless in the same way that true love can be. Because I don’t just want to get married for my own benefit – I want to marry my fiancé Steven because I know that it would make him happy, and that our wedding would also bring happiness to countless others.

That makes me no different to any heterosexual person who wishes to get married, and no different to the same-sex and gender diverse couples within New Zealand who also wish to have a legally recognised wedding.

Obviously, your primary duty as elected representatives of New Zealand is to represent them. And I am sure that LGBTI New Zealanders are making the necessary arguments to you based on love, equality, acceptance and respect which all support the introduction of a definition of marriage that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or sex and gender identity.

If you accept those arguments and vote yes, you will no doubt bring happiness and joy to same-sex and gender diverse couples within New Zealand who wish to get married, and to all LGBTI New Zealanders for being recognised as full citizens.

What this submission has tried to make clear is that the positive outcome of a yes vote is not restricted to New Zealand and its citizens – the benefits of supporting this legislation could extend to couples from other countries, including Australia like Steven and me, who may also be able to get married as a result.

And who knows, just like with giving women the right to vote in 1893, a first move by New Zealand on this legislation might be enough to convince Australia’s own parliamentarians to finally vote for marriage equality.

Update: New Zealand passed marriage equality in April 2013, with weddings set to commence from August. What a wonderful achievement from our cousins across the Tasman, and what an indictment on Australia’s politicians that we do not appear even close to passing similar legislation here. Anyway, possibly the best moment of the NZ marriage equality debate happened immediately after the Bills were passed, with the Gallery breaking out into a traditional Maori love song. Simply beautiful: