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Same sex-marriage referendum
blocked by Australian Parliament.
Senate committee considers a bill
to legalize same-sex marriage.

Part 24: Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Australia.

2016-SEP to 2017-FEB

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Map of Australia and its 7 jurisdictions:

Map of Australia 1

Western Australia, Northern Territory,
South Australia, Queensland,
New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

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2016-SEP: A bill to authorize a national plebiscite on same-sex marriage was defeated:

As described in the previous essay, the government is controlled by a coalition of the Liberal and National parties. One condition by which the conservative National party agreed to join the Coalition was that the national Marriage Act would not be amended by Parliament to allow same-sex couples to marry, unless the majority of Australian adults first approved of gay marriages in a national plebiscite. The National party appears to mistrust public opinion polls which can predict in advance what the outcome of a referendum would be with reasonable accuracy. Estimates of the cost of a referendum range from U.S. $80 to 120 million. (Australian $105 to to 160 million).

A bill was introduced to Parliament that would authorize a non-binding nation-wide plebiscite to be held on 2017-FEB-11. The plebiscite would have asked the voters the simple question:

"Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

Overlooked in this question is the simple question of how a person's sex is defined. A physician normally identifies a newborn's sex from a physical examination and registers her or him as either a female or male on their birth certificate. Many religious and social conservatives believe that the newborn remains of that sex for the rest of their life. The argue that it was the sex that God intended them to be. However, many others recognize that a small minority of newborns -- about 0.6% -- will be transgender when they reach adulthood. Most of these transgender adults identify as having a gender identity opposite to their birth-identified gender. As a result, many conservatives will identify a transgender woman according to her birth certificate's statement of gender which was male. Others define her according to her current gender identity: as female. (A small minority of transgender adults identify as being of neither gender, both genders, or of switching between male and female from time to time.)

The existence of transgender adults complicates the state's ability to identify whether a couple is of the same sex or of opposite sexes when they apply for a marriage certificate.

On 2016-SEP-13, the bill to set up the plebescite was debated. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who leads both the Liberal Party and the Coalition, asked that legislators support the bill. He said:

"If ever there is an issue to be put to a plebiscite, this is one that can be and should be because it is a very straightforward question. We put our faith in the Australian people, and we know that their answer, whether it is yes or no, will be the right answer."

Webmaster's comment [bias alert]:

The outcome of the plebiscite would, by definition, be the "right answer" according to the beliefs of a majority of Australian adults at the time. However, if the plebiscite failed to support marriage equality, or if it called for marriage equality and a sufficient number of legislators ignored the result of the plebescite, it would not be the right answer for the LGBT community's desire for equality, or for elementary justice, or even -- probably -- for the majority of Australian adults in the future.

Before a plebiscite would be held, there would be a lengthy national debate on marriage equality. The bill would have authorized the expenditure of Austraian $11million in government grants divided equally between the two sides in the debate to finance their advertising campaigns. Many Australians are concerned that the groups opposing same-sex marriage would use their government grant to finance attacks on the LGBT community. This has happened in other countries. That would cause extreme distress to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, and probably cause widespread depression and even suicide ideation, particularly among LGBT youth.

The Labor party caucus met before the vote and decided to vote against the bill's passage in the Senate. They successfully killed it. Meanwhile, a sizeable majority of about 60% of Australian adults favor marriage equality -- close to the current support by adults in the U.S. As in many other countries, this percentage is growing slowly. Also, 89 of 150 members of the Australian House of Representatives (59%) and 43 of 76 the Senators (57%) have publicly declared their support same-sex marriage. 2

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2017-JAN: Current status of LGBT rights in Australia:

As of 2017-JAN, the committed relationships of same-sex couples in:

  • Western Australia are not recognized; however, the couples are allowed to jointly adopt.

  • The Northern Territory are not recognized. They are not allowed to adopt children.

  • The remaining five jurisdictions of Australia are allowed to enter into a civil union partnership, and are allowed to jointly adopt. 3

No Australian same-sex couple anywhere in the country are permitted to obtain a marriage certificate in Australia. However, six of the eight jurisdictions recognize and register marriages by same-sex couples that have been legally solemnized in other countries. This gives couples the option of traveling to New Zealand, Hawaii, another U.S. state, or Canada, etc., be married, return to Australia and register their marriages locally. One such jurisdiction is the Australian Capital Territory; it is located in the south east of Australia and encompasses the city of Canberra, Australia's capital. The other five are the states:

  • New South Wales,
  • Queensland,
  • South Australia,
  • Tasmania, and
  • Victoria

About 90% of the population of Australia live either in the Capital Territory or in one of these five states. The Northern Territory and Western Australia do not yet recognize or register out-of-country marriages by same-sex couples. 3

A Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 had been introduced to the House of Representatives on 2012-FEB-13, but lapsed when the Parliament was dissolved on 2013-AUG-05. 4

Australia and Northern Ireland remain the only two large English speaking countries that still ban gay marriages from being solemnized and registered in their country. An Ipsos MORI poll in Northern Ireland during mid 2016 showed that 70% of adults favored marriage equality. That number is increasing steadily. 5

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This topic is continued in the next essay.

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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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References used:

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

  1. Map 2009, Bruce Jones Design. at: Used by permission.
  2. "Recognition of same-sex unions in Australia," Wikipedia, as on 2017-JAN-11, at:
  3. Rob Salerno, "2016: The Year That LGBT Progress Ended?," 2017-JAN-03, at:
  4. "Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012," Parliament of Australia, at:
  5. David Young, "Survey shows 70% support for same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland," Belfast Telegraph, 2016-JUN-29, at:

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Copyright 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2017-JAN-28
Latest update:
Author: B.A. Robinson

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