As those registered to participate in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey receive and return their forms over the coming weeks, the Executive Committee and Council of the Royal Society of Victoria wishes to express and explain its support for marriage equality in Australia, acknowledging there will be a plurality of views on this matter within our broad membership.
Many are questioning why legislation recognising the rights of couples from the same gender to marry is legally required. On investigation, we are informed that “common-law” or “de-facto” marriages don’t attract the same structural benefits as a legal marriage. For example, the death of a life partner becomes even more difficult for a same-sex couple due to impediments to “next-of-kin” recognition. Property law is likewise more difficult. Importantly, the right to marry also brings the right to divorce, and all the structural benefits of an existing legal system for separation. Recognition of rights as a non-biological parent is also in the mix. While there are legal instruments already in play that can alleviate the problems faced by same-sex couples, these are often an onerous and expensive work-around that needlessly exacerbates suffering during some of the most difficult moments of our lives. Equal rights to legal marriage elegantly addresses many of these problems, and levels the playing field for the communities affected.
We hear reports of established couples stating a change in the law is irrelevant to their lifestyle or partnering arrangements, which is of course a matter of personal choice. However, aside from the important principle of equality before the law, our concerns reside with people under 35, for many of whom this matter is a passionate issue of natural justice. For those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex, Asexual or one of many other non-heterosexual identity categories, traumatic and confronting experiences of adolescence and coming of age are not uncommon. Some RSV members who identify as being LGBTQIA+ report they feel their humanity is being voted on; that their gender and sexual identity is being judged as a point of difference from the majority that makes them “lesser” before the law. Given the alarming picture that proponents of mental well-being like Beyond Blue provide on youth survival rates, it is important that we all acknowledge this important minority of Australians deserve the same validation, support and legal recognition of personal rights that the majority currently enjoys.
We hear, acknowledge and respect concerns about the status of non-biological parenthood, about the rights of faith communities to refuse access, and for the status of other non-traditional marriage models like polygamy. These are not concerns we are being asked to respond to in this survey. The matter before us is purely about determining whether or not a majority of individual Australian citizens support marriage equality for same-sex couples. Our Parliament is not obliged to reflect the outcome of the survey in the introduction of subsequent legislation, but we would like to see an outcome that shows Australia at its best – open, respectful and inclusive of thriving diversity – that our politicians in Canberra must courageously endeavour to represent fairly.
For further information, we recommend reading this short and informative article, with an even more enlightening video explainer, published online by Fairfax Media.