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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Australia

Part 20:
2016-SEP: Parliament makes little
progress resolving the SSM issue.

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Throughout this web site, "SSM" refers to marriages by same-sex couples.
"LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals.

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This topic is continued from a previous essay.

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map of Australia 2016-SEP: About federal bills to either legalize SSM or to authorize a plebiscite on SSM:

One might think that the future path toward marriage equality in Australia should be obvious to everyone:

  • All but two of the large English-speaking countries of the word have already legalized same-sex marriage, including: the United States, the UK, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand. The only holdouts, as of 2016-SEP, are Northern Ireland and Australia. Attaining marriage equality is an active topic in both countries.

  • During 2012, the Joint Parliamentary Inquiry into a bill to allow same-sex marriage had received 276,437 responses from the public. This is the largest number ever received by any inquiry by the Australian Parliament. Of these, 177,663 respondents (64%) favored recognizing same-sex marriage, 98,164 (36%) were opposed, and 610 (0.2%) were unsure.

  • During 2013 and 2014, various public opinion polls in Australia showed that 65% to 72% of adults in the country favored marriage equality. Polls have indicated a gradual increase in acceptance over time. This same effect has been seen in other countries, as older teens enter adulthood with a relatively positive opinion of marriage equality, and older adults with a relatively negative opinion leave the voting pool. The trend appears to be irreversible.

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  • During 2015-SEP, the Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee recommended that Parliament hold a free vote on amendments to the Marriage Act that would permit couples in the LGBT community to marry. A free vote would allow individual Representatives and Senators to vote according to their conscience rather than according to the dictates of their political party. The report concluded that the alternative -- a plebescite -- would be too expensive. Also, that path would probably release a great deal of homophobia and vicious hatred directed against the LGBT community that would be particularly harmful to lesbian and gay youth. 1 No action was taken.

  • During 2015-NOV, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights studied a proposed bill -- the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. It would have attained marriage equality in Australia. They compared it with "articles 17 and 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which deals with familily's right to be respected. They concluded that the proposed bill:

    "... promotes the right to respect for the family by extending the availability of marriage to same-sex couples. ... the bill, in expanding the definition of marriage, promotes the right to equality and non-discrimination." 2

    The bill failed to become law.

  • On 2016-MAR-08, Terry Barnes, writing for the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) made a statement that probably represents the thoughts of many Australians:

    "A statistically small minority's issue has become the majority's headache, and incompetence, dithering and backbiting from our politicians has merely made things worse. ..."

    "... in the last two-and-a-half years a great deal of time, emotion and political capital has been thrown at an issue not greatly relevant to the everyday lives of the vast majority of Australian voters.

    It's consumed acres of newsprint, thousands of hours of airtime and polarised social media. It helped bring down one prime minister, put another under heavy political pressure, and split the Liberal and National parties. It has unified the Australian Labor Party against the Coalition, yet as a conservative Labor senator's resignation showed last week, it split it too.

    That issue, of course, is same-sex marriage. Rarely can one minority issue directly affecting so few dominate so many. ..." [Emphasis not in the original.]

    "What a mess.

    Our national agenda has been reduced to incompetent chaos, and civil public discourse is fraying, for about 4 per cent of the Australian population. This must stop. ..."

    So let's scrap the expensive plebiscite and put same-sex marriage to a free, parliamentary vote. Let's charge our MPs with using their judgment, consulting widely, listening to their constituents for and against, and voting after a thoughtful parliamentary debate. That's why we elect them, isn't it?" 3

    Barnes' advice was ignored by Parliament. However, readers of his article were sufficiently motivated to add 923 comments!

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  • During 2016-JUL: "just.equal," conducted a survey of the LGBT community in Australia to determine their views on a plebiscite. They found that 85% were opposed; 10% were in favor and 5% were undecided. There were 5,463 participants. The survey's margin of error was ±1.3 percentage points. 4

  • As of 2016-SEP:
    • 86 out of the 150 members of the Australian House of Representatives (57.3% of the total membership) have already publicly declared their support for same-sex marriage. An additional unknown percentage favor marriage equality and would vote in favor of it, but have not yet publicly declared their position. 5

    • 41 out of the 76 Senators (53.9%) have similarly publicly declared their support for same-sex marriage. 5

    • Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull who heads the Liberal/National Coaliltion, is a strong supporter of marriage equality. 5

    • The Opposition leader and head of the Labor Party, Bill Shorton, also favors legalizing same-sex marriage equality.

However, there appears to be intractable opposition by some conservative members of the coalition who are resisting a bill to ammend the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage, and to allow lawmakers to vote according to their conscience. There are rumors that the conservative wing of the ruling Coalition has threatened very disruptive action if a bill is considered by the Assembly and Senate. The alternative is to conduct a non-binding plebiscite among the public in the expectation that the members of parliament would later vote according to the will of the majority of voters. And so the matter has dragged on with no resolution.

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2016-SEP: Three attempts to break the impasse:

  • On 2016-SEP-12:
    • Rep. Bill Shorten, leader of the Labor party, introduced a private member's bill into the House of Representatives to legalise same-sex marriage. 6 It is called "Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2016," and would amend:

      "... the Marriage Act 1961 to: define marriage as a union of two people; clarify that ministers of religion or chaplains are not bound to solemnise marriage; and remove the prohibition of the recognition of same sex marriages solemnised in a foreign country; and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to make a consequential amendment. It also includes a regulation making power so that consequential amendments can be made to other Acts." 6

      The object of the bill is:

      "... to allow couples to marry, and to have their marriages recognised, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status."

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This topic is continued in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Naomi Woodley "Senate report warns same-sex marriage plebiscite could potentially harm people in LGBTI community," Australian Broadcasting Corp., 2015-SEP-16, at:
  2. "Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights: Human Rights Scrutiny Report - Thirtieth Report of the 44th Parliament," Parliament of Australia, Pages 112-115, 2015-NOV-10, at:
  3. Terry Barnes, "Same-sex marriage: Let's get it sorted and move on," Australian Broadcasting Corp., 2015-MAR-08, at:
  4. Ivan Hinton-Teoh, "Survey Shows Overwhelming Opposition to Plebiscite in LGBTI Communities," just.equal, 2016-AUG-02, at:
  5. "Recognition of same-sex unions in Australia," Wikipedia, as on 2016-SEP-11, at:
  6. Rep. Bill Shorten, "Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2016," Parliament of Australia, 2016-SEP-12, at:

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Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > Same-sex marriage > SSM menu > Australia > here

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Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2016-AUG-04
Latest update: 2016-SEP-26
Assembled by: B.A. Robinson

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