According to recent numbers, the number of Australians that identify as gay has increased. In 2008, 2.4% of the population identified as being homosexual, but that number had increased to 3.4% by 2014. Today, 4.6% of teenagers in Australia identify as gay, which shows the younger generation is even more comfortable coming out than previous generations were.
This doesn’t even account for the many bisexual and transgender people throughout our nation, all of whom belong to the LGBTQI+ community!
One possible reason that people are more comfortable coming out recently is the legal recognition of same sex marriage in Australia. Today, we’re going to take a look at the history of same sex marriage in Australia and see how it’s evolved over time. Read on for more information on the laws governing gay marriage in Australia and why they matter to you!
Australia was colonised by the UK in 1788. When this happened, it adopted all of the laws that existed in Britain during this time period. This meant that sodomy laws of the time applied, which stated that the punishment for homosexuality in men was death. In 1899, this sentence was reduced to life imprisonment, which still was a painful situation for many gay men.
Interestingly, lesbianism in women was never illegal in Britain, so it was also never criminalised in Australia.
These laws persisted throughout the early 20th century, and there was little change in these ideologies until the 1960s.
However, that doesn’t mean that LGBTQI+ individuals didn’t exist in Colonial Australia – people of all orientations have existed since the beginning of time.
20th Century Ideologies
Throughout the 20th century, attitudes toward the homosexual community changed greatly in Australia.
The Early Days
1932 brought the press down on the gay male population of Brisbane. The Arrow, a popular news source, states that there were a lot of ‘perverse’ happenings in Brisbane and that buggery was ‘a scandal of evil almost unprecedented’. If you’re interested in the specifics, you can read the original news article here.
As a result of this press, police went into Brisbane to control the gatherings of these communities. Many were arrested and treated with ghastly violence.
In 1951, New South Wales further criminalised homosexuality by amending the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). This ensured that ‘buggery’ would be illegal, spurring a lot of protest and the growth of LGBTQI+ rights movements throughout Australia.
CAMP and the ACT Homosexual Law Reform Society
However, not everything was gloom and doom. In the 1960s, things started to look up for the Australian LGBTQI+ community.
This was the direct result of the Sydney-based Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) forming. This organization was the first to assemble at a public LGBTQI+ gathering. Over the next year, they created an informal LGBTQI+ rights network across Australia by going to university campuses and other spaces that had large gay populations. This society held many demonstrations for gay rights and took concrete action to fight for their freedoms.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) also established a Homosexual Reform Society. This society was one of the first established, though it did not initially gather in the same way that CAMP did. This organisation fought for equal rights for LGBTQI+ Australians, denouncing both physical and ideological violence against these communities.
During the 1960s, the group’s main agenda was to speak out against the anti-gay laws that existed in Australia. In fact, this group was ultimately part of the reason that legislation for gay marriage was ultimately passed!
The existence of the ACT Homosexual Law Reform led to many more LGBTQI+ rights groups emerging from the woodwork, which made the movement grow even further.
Decriminalisation of Homosexuality
As a result of this campaigning, legislation in favour of gay rights was passed in 1994. The Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act of 1994 legalised all consensual sexual activity between adults, including gay male sexual acts. From this point forward, no one could be arrested for their sexual preferences.
However, things weren’t 100% finalised until 1996. After a court case ruled in favour of a gay man’s right to be intimate with his partner, all homosexuality was officially legal.
The Howard Government: A Step Backwards
However, progress towards equality and acceptance is never linear. Rights for LGBTQI+ Australians took a step back in 1996 when John Howard became Australia’s 25th Prime Minister. Read on to learn about this turbulent period in LGBTQI+ history and what its ultimate impacts were.
Who Was John Howard?
John Howard is one of the longest-tenured Prime Ministers in Australian history. He first ran for office in New South Wales but wound up losing. However, this only fuelled his political career, and he was elected to the Division of Bennelong in the 1974 Federal election.
In any case, Howard was all for traditional ‘family values’ in a multitude of ways – including opposing gay marriage.
He made his stance on the gay community clear by stating that he would be ‘disappointed’ if one of his children came out to him as gay. He also stated that the same status should not be given to ‘homosexual liaisons’ as is given to marriage.
Howard took legal steps to inhibit same-sex couples from having the same rights as heterosexual couples. He did this by lowering the number of independency visas, which stopped same-sex couples from being able to move around easily.
In 2004, Howard spoke out against Australia’s federal laws that newly allowed same-sex couples to adopt children. However, the Australian Government passed the bill and, accordingly, allowed same-sex couples to adopt children.
This may sound like a win, but the victory was short-lived. In 2004, the Marriage Act of 1961 was amended to define marriage solely as between a man and a woman.
What Were the Effects?
The effects of this were, of course, drastic and devastating. Homosexual couples had a much more difficult time campaigning for equal rights after this because the law was quite publicly against them. This lead to less acceptance among Australian citizens for the LGBTQI+ community. It also emboldened hateful people to continue their tirade of hate and lack of acceptance.
Today, there are people in the public eye who still share their beliefs against gay rights. However, these individuals exist in much lower numbers than they used to, which is largely due to reform in the 2000s and 2010s.
Civil Unions and Gay Rights
Once the Howard government was out of power, things once again took a turn for the better.
Though the Federal government wouldn’t move to recognise same-sex unions for some years, states and territories in Australia began to legalise civil unions in the 2000s. These unions gave LGBTQI+ couples legal recognition and protection.
Not only was this the direct result of civil rights groups speaking out, but it also emboldened further gatherings and demands for equality.
What About in New South Wales?
New South Wales established registered relationship recognition on 1 July 2010. While same-sex marriage was not yet legal, couples could prove their relationship status by registering with the state. They would need to fill out a single document detailing their relationship, which would give them legal recognition that was on par with de-facto heterosexual couples.
The 2010s: A Period of Reform
Beyond territorial reform, the 2010s were a period of federal reform for gay rights in Australia.
Growing Support and Growing Rights
After some Australian states had recognised civil unions for same-sex couples, many supporters came out of the woodwork. Civil rights groups grew and more people began to feel safe coming out.
Because of these emerging greater rights, many LGBTQI+ individuals were finding themselves in much happier positions than they had ever been in before. I
Legal Protections for LGBT People
Up until 2013, there was a horrid law in place called ‘gay panic defence’. This law gave people the right to assault and even kill LGBTQI+ individuals because they were ‘temporarily insane’ as a result of disgust and fear resulting from the victim’s sexuality. Fortunately, this law was overturned in 2013.
Adoption laws were also amended in multiple states, including New South Wales in 2010. This was the same year that New South Wales allowed for registered recognised relationships of same-sex couples. By 2018, adoption laws had expanded to almost every part of Australia, ensuring that gay couples could start families with children of their own.
Today, when these rights are violated, you can work with award-winning lawyers to get the justice that you deserve. LGBTQI+ people can no longer be harmed within Australia, and police cannot turn a blind eye to injustice. When this happens, it’s the right of the wronged party to pursue justice for themselves and their loved one.
Same Sex Marriage: A Victory in December 2017
But when was same sex marriage legal in Australia?
In 2017, news headlines were even better than those in previous years. Rather than simply ensuring legal protections for gay couples, they declared that everyone would have the right to marry regardless of gender.
But what is same sex marriage, exactly? Well, it’s just what it sounds like – everyone now has equal rights to marry the one that they love! Gay couples are now able to obtain the same benefits as heterosexual couples in all aspects of the law.
An amendment to the Marriage Act of 1961 made this possible. The majority of Australians were in favour of such an amendment, which lead to Parliament passing it as Federal law. Thus, same-sex couples were allowed to get married from the end of 2017.
So, Is Same Sex Marriage Legal in Australia?
Today, the answer is a resounding YES!
As an LGBTQI+ person, you can exercise your legal right to get married in New South Wales or any other Australian state. You’ll need to go through all the same legal avenues as a heterosexual couple would, including getting a signed marriage certificate and registering with the state.
Once this simple process is complete, it’s time to get excited. There’s nothing as amazing as the prospect of a life with the one you love.
Get Started With the Law
While same sex marriage has quite the history in all of Australia, including New South Wales, love conquers all. Today, all people can get married to the one they love, regardless of sexual orientation, so there’s a lot to celebrate.
Now that you know the history and evolution of same sex marriage in Australia, it’s time to contact us with any lingering questions that you may have. Our family law specialists will be more than happy to help you and your partner with the legal aspects of getting married so that you can begin to enjoy your lives together in matrimony. We also will help you with any other legal issues that you might have!