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Gay marriage reform New York style

By Tanel Jan Palgi - posted Friday, 1 July 2011

Maybe that's how Frank Sinatra would have sung his most famous song 'New York, New York'. The city that never sleeps has proven it's the best place for the statue of freedom. After years of lobbying and campaigning same-sex couples have made it clear, it's about love, equality and freedom for them and they've eventually gained legal rights for marriage. And yes, legal rights to marry instead of civil unions or domestic partnerships. Why construct something dividing for society rather than to make marriage work for everyone? New Yorkers, after decade of battle are opening Marriage for all members of society.

The Australian Marriage Act from 1961 defines marriage as ‘...the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.’ Pitifully same-sex marriages entered into under the laws of another country are also not recognised in Australia. Australia has locked the doors for marriage and happiness for the gay community and seems not to know where it has hidden the keys.

Looking back into history, Denmark in 1989 was the first country in the world to successfully pass a same-sex union bill. From there many countries in Europe started to legally accept same-sex relationships as well countries all over the world. For Australian LGBT-people fight for equal rights turned into fright under Howard's prime ministership starting from 1996 until 2007. During the same period 28 countries around the world were changing their legislations in favor of same-sex relationship recognition while Australia proved to be country going backwards. Even though the government has changed since then, acceptance towards same-sex couples has less improved. The most crucial element for LGBT movement, the equal right to get married, is at a standstill.


In response to question about equal rights and same-sex marriage federal MP Martin Ferguson announced that while not supporting same-sex marriage, the Gillard Government supports a nationally consistent framework for relationship recognition to be implemented by the States and Territories. Victoria, ACT, NSW and Tasmania have established relationship recognition schemes and relationships recognised under these schemes are now recognised in a wide range of Commonwealth laws. The Government will continue to encourage other jurisdictions to develop such schemes. It seems like the Government is dealing the issue with the prudence principle almost like trying to solve some zigzag puzzle. Eventually the question is just about freedom and equality.

And if we are thinking about equality and freedom, then why not to move towards gender-neutral marriage instead of creating various forms of relationship recognition schemes, different in every state and territory? If John Howard was able to change Australian Marriage Act in 2004 how come it is impossible to change it in 2011 to make it embrace more modern Western values? The Australian Marriage Act shouldn't be a secret pact that just applies to chosen heterosexuals. Marriage should be freely available for everybody in society regardless of sexuality. Same-sex couples are totally capable of voluntarily entering into a life together by getting married just as are their fellow opposite-sex couples.

In same-sex marriage the state of New York provides a good comparison for Australia. The polls results in both sides have constantly shown growing support for same sex marriage over the past years: 58 per cent of New Yorkers were in favor of same-sex unions in 2011 (comparing to 34 per cent in 2004). The Galaxy poll, which Australian Marriage Equality lobby group commissioned, showed that in June 2011 around 75 per cent of respondents agreed it was inevitable that Australian laws would be changed to allow same-sex marriage.

In the same way there seems to be common support towards same-sex marriage among Gen-Y’ers like me. For researchers in New York it almost became necessary to add the question “Why do you even ask?” option into polls. In Australia, ABC’s Q&A program with its Gen-Y audience showed like-wise unanimous support towards same-sex marriage. It seems that the difference between New Yorkers and Australians is that politicians in the U.S. made a move based on the growing support and actually ended discrimination through marriage institution. And that what it is - a form of discrimination, where heterosexual relationships are in favor and same-sex couples are considered second-class. Unfortunately.

If anyone asked where Australia would erect it's statue of freedom, to Adelaide, Melbourne or Sydney then maybe the best way to build freedom would be through abolishing discrimination in law all over the country. Even slight changes in wording can create a more positive approach. How about removing 'exclusion' from the Australian Marriage Act and replacing it with 'inclusion'. Just a word – but a world of difference.

If they could make it there, you know, we could make it just about anywhere...

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About the Author

Tanel Jan Palgi is a freelance Estonian journalist, who is living in Melbourne. He has been a contributor for Estonian newspapers (Postimees, Eesti Päevaleht, Eesti Ekspress) and he has MA in humanities.

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