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Australia says "YES"!

*gender-neutral they/them pronouns are used throughout

This month, many were ecstatic to learn that a significant step toward LGBTQ+ rights was achieved. Australians voted for the law to be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. The law is not changed yet; supporters hope that it will be within weeks. Unfortunately, many conservatives want to use it to discriminate against LGBTQ+ Australians. The legal challenges that LGBTQ+ Australians face are similar to the ones Americans face, and many of our big picture values are similar as well. Keep reading to learn more and to hear thoughts from GSA members at Kent Place!

What benefits do legally married couples have in Australia?

Currently, legal marriage in Australia is between a male and a female, like it was in the U.S. a few years ago. Similar to other countries, legally married couples in Australia have several benefits and rights, including parental rights to children born by IVF, right to make a property claim after divorce, right to spousal maintenance, ability to visit one’s spouse in the hospital, the right to make medical decisions for one’s spouse, and rights and entitlements when a spouse dies (especially without a will).

Same-sex couples in Australia can be legally recognized as De Facto partners after providing evidence to the court (which is required for legal marriage. De Facto couples have access to many marriage benefits if they are able to prove their relationship.

“...marriage for heterosexuals is a standard, even a societal expectation, that has been around for centuries. For people of the LGBTQ+ community, however, this right, this expectation, has to be fought for. And this right isn’t just for a piece of paper to say you’re married. Health insurance, taxes, children, etc. come with the right to marriage. So, I am proud of Australia’s people for recognizing this reality.” -Biz Stahl ‘20

What is the postal survey?

In August, the Australian government announced that they would gauge support for same-sex marriage via an optional postal survey, which asked one question: Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? The survey wasn’t perfect. The uncertainty, the debates, and the “no” campaigns had a negative impact on the mental health of many LGBTQ+ individuals in Australia. Furthermore, the survey cost about $100 million. Voting is how democracy works, but should people’s rights be left up to public vote?

What happened, and what does it mean?

On November 15, 2017, the results were disclosed. 79.5% of eligible Australians voted. 7.8 million (61.6%) voted “yes,” in favor of same-sex marriage. 38.4% voted “no.” This does not mean that same-sex couples in Australia are now able to get legally married, like they are in the U.S. This means that parliament will begin working on changing the law.

“I learned that over 12,000,000 people responded to the survey which makes almost exactly half of Australia's total population and 7.8 million of those voters voted yes. This shocked me as it was a voluntary survey but over half of the population filled out the survey. The numbers don't lie. I think this exemplifies that, although we have a long way to go, we are moving in a direction that supports love and equality on a global scale.” -Sofia Tartaglia ‘19

How are some conservatives attempting to use this as an opportunity to discriminate?

Allowing same-sex marriage is not the same as prohibiting discrimination. Many conservatives want to make sure that businesses and individuals have the right to refuse services to LGBTQ+ individuals for religious or moral reasons. They also want to keep religious institutions exempt from anti-discrimination laws. Furthermore, many conservatives want to give parents the right to remove their children from class if teachings are inconsistent with relevant marriage beliefs. A right-wing bill is unlikely to pass, but the bill that does pass may include some of these conservative ideas.

“Congratulations, Australia. I feel as though we shouldn’t have to say that because it should have been allowed as long as straight marriage has been. Then again, it’s one small step for man, one huge step for equality.” -Whitney Gordon ‘21

Though a long and emotional process, the results of the postal survey provided hope for many LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies. Do you think this process would be successful in the U.S.?

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