Right now, there is a form of Marriage Apartheid creating an entire group of second-class Australians.
There is such a flurry of misinformation surrounding marriage equality that it is probably time for a little primer into what constitutes legal marriage in Australia.
All marriage in Australia is governed by the Commonwealth Marriage Act of 1961. This act was the result of the States ceding their control of marriage law. Many laws were a throwback to colonial times when each State had something different, just like railway gauges.
For all states (apart from WA), this included Family Law, resulting in The Family Law Act. The States maintained their Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages which are still a large part of processing the paperwork.
The Marriage Act was created by the great Sir Garfield Barwick and later finessed by Lionel Murphy, who is considered one of the fathers of Celebrancy. The Attorney-General is still charged with overseeing the Marriage Act.
The Marriage Act of 1961 is quite a simple, flexible and fair document. It does not mention God, Jesus, Buddha or any religious figure, nor love, history or any other tradition, yet the Act must be used with ALL legal marriage, both religious and civil. All priests, pastors, rabbis and imams act as Religious Celebrants under the Act, using the same documents and processes.
So, what is a legal marriage in Australia? Well, to all intents and purposes, it is a simple Commonwealth statutory declaration of mutual property, responsibility and kinship. It is sworn before an authorised Commonwealth Celebrant and witnessed by two people over 18. As soon at it is signed and witnessed, it is legal and binding. It can only be undone in a court of Family Law.
The Marriage Act has been amended many, many times, usually housekeeping amendments regarding celebrants and documents, changes in age and identity requirements, or what constitutes a prohibited relationship. In fact, Celebrants now re-register and do a day of professional development every year.
So, why all the kerfuffle about allowing adult Australians of the same gender to legally marry? Well, until 2004, all it might have taken was a High Court challenge to rule that all Australians should have access to the Constitution and equal marriage rights would prevail.
However, in 2004, Prime Minister John Howard, with bipartisan support from Labor, amended the Marriage Act to read “Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”
Public opinion in favour of Marriage Equality has been growing. Close to 75% of Australians are now in favour of same sex couples having equal rights. Attempts to hold a simple free vote in the Parliament to reverse the 2004 amendment in favour of Marriage Equality have been stymied by conservatives who believe the age old traditional model of marriage should stand. Yet, that ideal has only stood since 2004.
The misinformation about bigamy, polygamy, polyandry, child marriage and even “animal husbandry” is simply obfuscation spread by conservative elements. The Marriage Act already deals with all of these and more. It just isn’t legally possible in Australia.
So, what’s the big issue? Well, if same sex couples are allowed to marry like heterosexual couples, they would instantly have full property, relationship and kinship rights without having to go to court. No more “Next of Kin” challenges in hospitals, funeral homes and airports. No more challenges for inheritance, benefits, superannuation and insurance. No more challenges for custody of children.
The world will not end and all will be well. For a start, there will be thousands of weddings in the first few years for Civil Celebrants and Religious Celebrants who support Marriage Equality. An estimated $1.5 BILLION will be injected into the Australian economy in the first six months.
If Celebrants would like more information, discussion and to meet with like minded Celebrants, visit: https://www.facebook.com/equalitycelebrants/
Couples seeking information can visit http://www.equalitycelebrants.com
Randall Berger is a Wedding Celebrant. He wears a button which say “I support Marriage Equality, ask me why” to which he responds, “Every Australian citizen deserves equal protection under the law.”