lobbying for same-sex marriage rights has intensified following the government’s announcement of plans to reform discriminatory laws.
The trough of reforms follows the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s (HREOC’s) 2007 Same-Sex: Same Entitlements report, which recommended the amendment of 58 laws that discriminate against same-sex couples and their children in areas of financial and workplace benefits.
Emboldened by this initial success and the responsiveness of the Labour government, a chorus has already formed calling for same-sex marriage rights in all Australian jurisdictions.
“The outstanding issue is the ongoing issue of same sex marriages,” Law Society President Ross Ray told Lawyers Weekly after the announcement of reforms of 58 discriminatory laws across areas including family law, taxation and superannuation.
Ray commended the government for its “appropriate and healthy response” to same-sex discrimination, but says that Australia will never meet its international human rights obligations without addressing deeper inequalities.
“The issue of [human rights] is relevant because it means that we are really not honouring our obligation under the international covenant on civil and political rights. The reality is that same sex marriages are legally recognised in many foreign jurisdictions,” he said.
The Law Council President said the council would hold strong on its stance towards same-sex marriage: “It has been the law council’s position, and remains their position, that that is a matter that this government still should deal with.”
The Greens party have also joined in the call for gay marriage rights, promising to force a vote on the issue.
Greens Senator Kerry Nettle will move amendments to Labor's upcoming same-sex law reform package to ensure that same-sex couples can marry. "Equality is not something that comes in half measures. Without all the same rights as the rest of the community, same-sex couples still face discrimination.
"The Greens will move amendments to ensure that universal access to marriage is not ignored and will be asking all MPs who care about equal rights to cross the floor when the vote is taken,” the Senator said.
The Democrats also welcomed the reform push in an official statement, describing it as a “long time coming” and an “end to gross injustice,” however Senator Andrew Bartlett refrained from entering into the gay marriage debate.
“Despite overwhelming public support and political lip service for an end to ongoing legal discrimination, political action was thin on the ground,” Senator Bartlett said.
“Same-sex couples have put up with an unfair and discriminatory system for far too long and the Democrats are proud that we have led the way in keeping this issue before the Parliament and in the public mind.”
The initial raft of Legislation is slated to be introduced in the winter session of Parliament. If passed, it will be in effect by mid-2009. The government’s plan includes the amendment of more than 40 additional laws which discriminate in other areas.
“I am delighted that the government is acting on the recommendations of our report within a year of its publication,” said HREOC Commissioner Graeme Innes.