What’s Next for Australian Couples Who Had their Marriage Rights Torn Away?

Australian gay couples had their marriages declared void this week by the country’s High Court. So, what’s next for marriage equality rights in Australia?

Around 27 same-sex couples have married since the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) put into force its marriage equality legislation just over a week ago. At the time, the federal government warned that it would challenge the law in the High Courts, arguing that only federal lawmakers have the power to legalize marriage equality and that the local law does not tally with the federal Marriage Act, which was amended in 2004 to ban same-sex marriages.

In a unanimous decision, Australia’s High Court agreed with the federal government. The Court summarized its findings in a short statement:

“The Marriage Act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same-sex couples. That Act is a comprehensive and exhaustive statement of the law of marriage. Under the constitution and federal law as it now stands, whether same-sex marriage should be provided for by law is a matter for the federal parliament.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made no secret of his opposition to same-sex marriage. His presiding party and the coalition of which they are a part has worked to block two previous attempts at a federal marriage equality amendment.

The ACT government’s legalizing same-sex marriage was seen as a test for whether the federal government would attempt to oppose the law, and how far state and territory rights might extend. Obviously, the High Court has made it clear that federal action will be needed before same-sex marriage can be legalized. Given that the federal government is opposed to marriage equality, it raises the question what’s next for the civil rights fight?

What’s Next for Same-Sex Marriage in Australia?

Rodney Croome of the leading Australian gay marriage advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, argues the loss is only a minor setback.

“But in many ways the finding is less important than the images and personal stories from last weekend’s same-sex marriages in Canberra, which have taken the Australian public’s understanding of marriage equality to a new level,” Croome writes. “The ideological conflicts and political protests that often turn Middle Australia away from an issue were removed. Instead, the values at the heart of marriage equality — love, commitment, family — were finally visible for all to see and share.”

Croome points to the fact that the coalition will need to hold a conscience vote to decide whether to bring marriage equality legislation before Parliament.

He is joined in calling for the conscience vote by Labor state governments in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria, who all believe that their federal counterparts in the Abbott government should do the same.

Of particular importance is West Australian Premier Colin Barnett’s statement on the issue, saying he doesn’t support same-sex marriage but that a vote should be brought. “I think the mood of the Australian people is changing and I have no doubt that at some stage we will have same-sex marriage,” he is quoted as saying. “I think the Australian people need to get to that point. When it comes to a vote, my view is yes, it should be a conscience vote.”

There’s also reason to think that the 30 or so couples who were married and have now had those marriages declared void could attempt a lawsuit regarding the injustice they have faced. However, a federal legislative vote is much preferred and the High Court has already shown it wants to rule conservatively on this issue.

Perhaps the best perspective on this issue comes from Darlene Cox, who married her partner Liz Holcombe on Saturday and whose marriage was also voided by the High Court ruling. She says she is not angered by the High Court ruling, but that it’s time for the government to recognize they have to act.

“Laws are put up and people change them, it’s fine, it’s actually part of the democratic process,” she said. “You’ve got to respect the process. I think the responsibility is now on the federal government. If they were so sure that they needed to challenge the legislation, let’s make sure marriage equality is on the national agenda.”

Christian lobby groups who wanted the marriages overturned have called the High Court ruling a “common sense” one and have said it is now “time to move on” from same-sex marriage, which they believe is irrelevant to most Australians.

Not only does that seem unlikely, the High Court’s confirmation that only the federal government can make marriage equality a reality appears to have concentrated campaigners’ minds and put pressure squarely on federal lawmakers. One thing is for sure: the fight is not over yet.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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Ashley D.
Ashley D.1 years ago

Good for Australia. No-one has a right to marriage.

Leanne Bowden
Leanne Bowden1 years ago

Totally agree with you Rita, thanks for your comments,

Rita delfing
Rita Delfing1 years ago

What a shame. So much negativity regarding LGBT, thankfully in BC, in Canada same sex marriages can happen. I was discussing with my niece yesterday there seems to be a darkness happening with the way Russia is behaving, I read something about India and now this. I never understand what does it matter to people. If someone loves someone, what's it to you! Go find a real cause, like why people are starving in some parts of the world and not others. Australia should look at it's shipping of live stock that truly is a shame for the country and something that needs improving. Leave people alone and to marry who they want!

Nimue Pendragon
Nimue Pendragon1 years ago

This is what happens when you vote in a prat like Tony Abbott. Glad I didn't vote for him.

BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

Sarah M. is right. There is nothing more POWERFUL than actually seeing pictures, videos and in person, the happy faces and joyous reactions of Gay Couples and their families and friends, when finally happily married often after many years of loyalty to one another. When the Public actually SEES this, it overcomes both Ignorance and Apathy.
I was astonished at the number of CATHOLICS in Australia, and the amount of their institutional influence. I guess it's because of the number of descendants from Irish. Now that the Aussies are having their own investigations of Priestly Pedophiles and cover-up - a little later than some other countries - I'd expect Catholic influence to wane quickly, as it has in other countries. The main political opposition to Gay Marriage in ALL countries, comes from their entrenched and backwards and bigoted Religious Establishments.
When Gay People actually come out and show their faces, they're perceived as "like us" and not as the evil-doing freaks the Catholics and other religious like to portray them as. This has the most powerful effect on Public Opinion, and permanently changes the World.

Linda Kristensen
Linda K.1 years ago

Come on, get real Australia! Same sex marriages are done all over the Western wold.

Berny p.
Berny p.1 years ago

Why dont they just Pack,they would have the same right but would not be ..officially married.....
one way to get around it.

Val M.
Val M.1 years ago

It was wonderful to finally see loving couples able to marry. I do hope that we can legislate for marriage equality again - though it would have been much better to just keep the equal rights law!

Janis K.
Janis K.1 years ago

Hope the people of Australia can move their government to a more liberal and accepting stance. Thanks for sharing.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 1 years ago

LEANNE - Unfortunately, Canada currently also shares a Conservative asshole as PM but we only have to wait a year to ditch the creep. I only hope our apathetic voters clue in by then. Most are too stupid or disinterested to realize they are being screwed. Harper has undone years of social progress of which Canadians were rightly proud in the areas of the environment, peacekeeping, social programmes and general respect for our nation abroad, hard earned over decades. He is a sycophant of the US right. Sad how quickly one bastard can undo so much good so quickly!