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‘A day for love’

2017: Same-sex marriage becomes legal in Australia

Photo: Andrew Follows, Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives
2000 Today
Year level

10

Learning area

Civics and citizenship

Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. Do you agree that the legalisation of same-sex marriage was ‘an important moment for equal rights in Australia’? Explain why or why not.

2. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the change of law allowing same-sex marriage is a defining moment in Australian history? Give reasons for your answer.

Image activities

1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Tell this story in pictures by placing them in whatever order you think works best. Write a short caption under each image.

2. Which three images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group create a final list of three questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Bike pedal covered in woollen crochet and the word ‘yes’ embroidered on it</p>
National Museum of Australia

In a snapshot

On 9 December 2017 the federal Marriage Act was amended, giving same-sex couples the right to marry. It came about after decades of campaigning by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA+) community and its supporters. The legalisation of same-sex marriage is seen as an historic moment for equal rights in Australia.

Bike pedal covered in woollen crochet and the word ‘yes’ embroidered on it

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. Which state was the first to decriminalise homosexuality in Australia? Which state was the last to do this?

2. How was the Marriage Act 1961 changed in 2004? What was the consequence of this change?

3. What was the result of the 2017 voluntary postal survey?

When was homosexuality decriminalised in Australia?

Throughout Australia's history LGBTQIA+ people, like those in most countries, have faced discrimination. Homosexuality was even considered a crime, and people were arrested and imprisoned up until the 1970s.

In May 1972 Dr George Duncan was murdered in Adelaide. He was a law lecturer and gay man. His murder showed the South Australian community that LGBTQIA+ people were often the victims of violence and harassment. 

After Dr Duncan’s murder the South Australian government believed that the community was ready for change. In 1975 the South Australian parliament passed a law that decriminalised homosexuality. Similar laws were later passed in the Australian Capital Territory (1976), Victoria (1980), the Northern Territory (1983), New South Wales (1984), Queensland (1990) and Tasmania (1997). New laws in Australia in 2008 and 2013 made it illegal to discriminate against same-sex couples and their children. But same-sex marriage was specifically excluded from these laws.

How has marriage been regulated in Australia?

The Marriage Act 1961 is the federal law which sets out the rules for marriage in Australia. When it was passed in 1961 politicians assumed that marriage would only occur between a man and a woman.

In 2004 the Australian Government, led by Prime Minister John Howard, added a definition of marriage to the 1961 law. This definition specifically stated that marriage could only occur between a man and a woman. The government said that its aim was to ‘protect the institution of marriage’.

After this change calls for marriage equality grew stronger and gained support from many politicians, the media, and the broader Australian community. Between 2004 and 2016 politicians introduced more than 20 marriage equality Bills into the Australian Parliament. But none were successful. 

Some people in Australia still opposed same-sex marriage because of personal, cultural and religious beliefs.

‘At long last, LGBTIQ Australians will be equal under the law. Our law will speak for a modern Australia, inclusive and fair.’

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten addressing the House of Representatives, 7 December 2017

Plebiscite or postal survey?

In 2016 the government promised to consult the Australian community on same-sex marriage by holding a compulsory national plebiscite. But the Australian Parliament did not support a plebiscite. The government decided to hold a voluntary postal survey instead. 

Many people in the community and parliament did not think that a postal survey was a good idea either. They felt that marriage equality was a human rights issue and that parliament should simply pass a law to allow same-sex marriage. 

Research task

 

Do some research to find out how many countries now allow same-sex marriage. Do any of the countries on this list surprise you?

Marriage Equality Test 4

But the postal survey went ahead. The survey asked voters to answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question: ‘Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?’

Almost 13 million people, or nearly 80 per cent of eligible Australians, took part in the survey on 15 November 2017. A total of 61.6 per cent of these voted ‘yes’. Three weeks later the Australian Parliament amended the Marriage Act, redefining marriage as ‘a union of two people’.

Other countries that recognise same-sex marriage include New Zealand, Canada and the United States as well as many South American and European countries.

‘What a day. What a day for love, for equality, for respect. Australia has done it. Every Australian had their say and they said, “It’s fair. Get on with it,” and the Parliament has got on with it and we have voted today for equality, for love.’

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addressing the House of Representatives, 7 December 2017

Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. Which state was the first to decriminalise homosexuality in Australia? Which state was the last to do this?

2. How was the Marriage Act 1961 changed in 2004? What was the consequence of this change?

3. What was the result of the 2017 voluntary postal survey?