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Marriage Act change required to remove discrimination

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Media Release

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One of Australia’s leading family law experts has today thrown her support behind proposed changes to the Marriage Act which will remove the last significant piece of legislative discrimination against gay and lesbian members of the community.

Ms Heather McKinnon, Practice Group Leader and family lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said while the Family Law Act did not differentiate between heterosexual and same-sex couples, changes to the Marriage Act would remove one of the last pieces of Commonwealth discrimination against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) members of the community.

“Changes to the Marriage Act are long overdue. Federal legislation should not seek to privilege particular parts of our community over another,” Ms McKinnon said.

“During the past few years the government has changed more than 85 Commonwealth laws to eliminate discrimination against same-sex couples.

“Changes have occurred in areas dealing with social security, taxation, Medicare, veteran’s affairs, workers’ compensation, educational assistance, superannuation, family law and child support.

“Changes to the Marriage Act, giving equality to all, will arguably be the crowning glory to all these reforms.”

Ms McKinnon said Australia had ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that expressed equality before the law and the right to non-discrimination.

“In recent history, marriage reforms have secured the legitimacy of interracial unions and furthered the rights of women in marital relationships. In the context of evolving norms the Marriage Act should be amended to define marriage as the ‘union of two people' irrespective of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. “

Ms McKinnon said same-sex couples could legally be married in many foreign nations such as Canada, the Netherlands, Argentina and South Africa.

“Despite not recognising these marriages in Australia, the Federal Government now issues eligible same-sex couples Certificates of No Impediment to marry in these jurisdictions. Couples that are legally married in overseas jurisdictions, should have their marriages recognised in Australia.

“Relationship recognition can take multiple forms, however, permitting civil unions or relationship register schemes, while denying same-sex couples access to marriage, produces a tiered relationship structure that privileges heterosexual relationships while undermining same-sex relationship recognition.” 

Ms McKinnon said while there were technical differences between the bills before the Federal Parliament, the proposed changes would essentially: 

  • Amend the definition of marriage to the 'union of two people' regardless of their sex
  • Recognise foreign same-sex marriages and
  • Provide religious ministers the freedom to perform marriages according to their faith. 

Ms McKinnon said while changes to the Marriage Act would bring law reform, many state based laws continued to treat members of the GLBTI community differently.

She said there were no national anti-discrimination laws based on sexuality or gender and at present, leaving members of the GLBTI community reliant on state based laws for protection.

“Under State based laws, discrimination against members of the GLBTI community exists in areas such as criminal law, adoption, surrogacy and with assisted reproduction technology.”

Slater and Gordon was one of the major sponsors of last year’s CoastOut conference in Coffs Harbour.

Ms McKinnon's support comes on the last day that people can make a submission to the Senate Committee inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010.