Today there will be many happy gay people in London as they get hitched in some of the first gay weddings to be legally held in Britain. The British government announced that not only would they be allowing gay couples to legally have a same-sex marriage, but they would be flying the rainbow flag, a long time LGBT community symbol, over important and prominent government buildings for the day. In a highly visible acknowledgment of new found equality, the government is not only signaling its acceptance but its support of marriage equality for everyone. Nevertheless, while same-sex marriage may be a go for Britain itself, it is still not okay in some British colonies, such as Australia.
In fact, an Australian couple who are traveling to the United Kingdom in order to get married on this first day of equality will not be legally recognized by the Australian government when they return home. In a heartbreaking turn of events, their marriage will be unrecognized as soon as they enter Australian customs, an outcome of the current Aussie government’s decision to maintain a ban on same-sex marriage.
In December of 2013, however, gay weddings were held in the nation’s capital of Canberra. Canberra passed legislation for itself that month and legal weddings were held as soon as the law went in to effect. Australian couples from all over the country traveled to their nation’s capital in order to be among the first to get married legally. Less than a week later, however, these weddings were stripped of their legality by an Australian High Court which ruled that the state law allowing same-sex marriage and the federal law which does not could not exist at the same time. Therefore, the state law was struck down.
The Abbott government, which was still in its early days back then, told the court during arguments that the Marriage Act, which states that marriage can only be valid when between opposite sex partners, is the reigning law of the land, a stance that the conservative Abbott government also maintains. This law is said to be exhaustive and comprehensive, the complete statement of what marriage is and will remain in Australia.
This is likely to be the case for some time since the Abbott Coalition government is virulently opposed to same-sex marriage. While in opposition, the party blocked federal bills that would have legalized marriage equality for the country. Now that they have power, there is no doubt they will maintain their hard line. The court’s ruling in December was a huge victory for them because it prevented any of the Australian states from attempting to legalize same-sex marriage in their own territory, making marriage equality a strictly federal matter. There seems to be little hope for marriage equality left so long as Abbott and his cronies are in control.
But the British decision to support marriage equality tosses an interesting wrench into Australia’s marriage ban. As an official British colony, Australia takes certain cues from the Motherland. Will the openly monarchist Abbott have to have a change of heart when the government he refuses to part from legalizes gay marriage? After all, Britain, which he so loves and admires, has given the go for same-sex marriage while he has not done the same in the British colony he governs. Might the ardent monarchist be forced to fall in line with Britain’s support for marriage equality?
It is a bit unlikely that the firm, Catholic prime minister will take that step, no matter how much he admires the Queen. Even with the arrival of a new Governor General, the official representative of British governance in Australia, there is little hope for change. The new Governor Cosgrove has stated that he is agenda-free coming in to his new office and has said that he will not involve himself in partisan debate. Where it stands now, the Australian LGBT community’s best hope for marriage equality lies in the next election where the more liberal Labor Party has a chance to take back control from their conservative opposites.
In the meantime, gay Australians seeking to tie-the-knot will continue to do what they have been doing for years when it comes time to get hitched – fly across the water to New Zealand. The smaller country and another British colony, legalized same-sex marriage in August 2013 and since then more than a quarter of all their recorded gay marriages are couples from Australia. Not only is this a good place to get married, the country’s rich natural beauty makes it a good place to honeymoon, too, if people are looking for price-conscious options to celebrate their commitment.
While Australian couples will very soon be celebrating their new lives as married people in Britain, no such rejoicing will be occurring in Australia any time soon. Even with the example of forward-thinking New Zealand to point the way, the conservative government in the country affectionately known as Oz will most likely remain behind its motherland and fellow colony on this issue. So while Australian citizens are getting married in other countries and Britain is giving the go ahead for it to happen, progress for same-sex marriage equality will not be arriving in Australia any time soon.
Opinion By Lydia Webb