Lawyers welcome same-sex marriage reform
Australian lawyers have welcomed the recent legalisation of same-sex marriage, after a prolonged national debate.
There were scenes of celebration in Parliament on Thursday evening when the lower house passed a historic bill legalising same-sex marriage.
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The bill passed by an overwhelming majority, with only four MPs voting no. A series of proposed amendments to the bill were voted down in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove gave assent to the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 on Friday morning, putting an end to months of debate over the rights of LGBTQI Australians. The first same-sex weddings will be able to take place on 9 January 2018.
The Law Council of Australia (LCA) welcomed the announcement and congratulated Parliament on "enshrining a fundamental human right".
“This is a tremendous day not just for LGBTQI Australians, but for Australian human rights and Australian justice,” said LCA president Fiona McLeod SC.
“Freedom from discrimination is a fundamental human right. Discrimination on arbitrary grounds, including sexual orientation, is contrary to Australia’s international human rights obligations.
“Parliament has delivered on the emphatic decision of the Australian people and helped embed this crucial right for LGBTQI Australians.”
Ms McLeod thanked the many politicians who engaged with the LCA over the course of the debate.
“We are extremely grateful for the constructive meetings and engagement we have had with a broad range of parliamentarians, from government ministers, shadow ministers, backbenchers and the crossbench,” she said.
“It was the Law Council's view that the marriage equality bill presented to Parliament already struck the right balance between protecting the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from discrimination.
“We are grateful that Parliament has formed the same view and we are pleased today that Australia has removed discrimination from the Marriage Act.
“We have taken a great leap forward for Australian human rights and for that we should all be proud.”
Anna Hacker, an accredited wills and estates specialist at Australian Unity Trustees, said same-sex couples must be aware of the legal implications of marriage and plan accordingly.
“Marriage generally revokes any previous will automatically, so those entering into marriage should consider updating their wills to make sure they take into account the marriage," she said.
Ms Hacker said marriage ensures more rights for same-sex couples than de facto relationships.
“Having a legally recognised marriage means avoiding situations where those in a same-sex relationship are treated unfairly if one partner dies or is critically ill or injured," she said.
"For instance, in the past, a person in a same-sex de facto relationship may not be considered next of kin, and not included on the death certificate or allowed to make medical decisions on behalf of their partner.
“Marriage automatically invokes these rights.
“However, couples should still consider creating a will and estate plan to ensure their wishes are fully understood. These documents outline how the one you love is to be looked after if something should happen to you, and defines who can make decisions about your medical care if needed.
“They also cover the care and financial implications for any children, which is important regardless of the legal status of the relationship.”