Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently announced his support for same-sex marriage in Australia. But what difference will change to Australian law, allowing same-sex marriage, make? Legally, it will make very little difference. Symbolically, on the other hand, it will make a great deal of difference.
I believe that legally it will make very little difference as couples that are, or have been, in a de facto relationship are now generally treated in the same way, under Australian law, as couples that are or have been married. For example, whether you are married or in a de facto relationship, the Family Law Act will apply to a property dispute between you and your partner. The same law also applies to same-sex couples living in a de facto relationship, at least while they are living in Australia.
It is the symbolism of one’s right to marry that will have the greatest impact. Many of those, in same-sex relationships, who are not currently allowed to marry in Australia tell us that legalising same-sex marriage would be an important symbolic change for them and would recognise and give effect to their human right to marry.
It is these same people who are also offended that relationship registration is proffered as an alternative to marriage. As one client said to me recently, “You register cars and dogs, not relationships”.
Given the trends overseas, change to Australian law appears inevitable and, from my point of view, would be very welcome. There will still be couples (both same-sex and different-sex) who choose not to marry, but it is hard to accept that no such choice should be available to same-sex couples.
Juliet Behrens is Lawyer at Dobinson Davey Clifford Simpson Family Law Specialists, 18 Kendall Lane, New Acton, Canberra ACT 2601 and can be contacted on (02) 6212 7600.