August 6, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Since late last year, we’ve been following the frustratingly start-and-stop progress of marriage equality in Australia, and while legislation at the federal level in Australia seems to remain at a sort of standstill, it looks like Tasmania may become the first Australian state to legislate marriage equality. Late last week, Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings told her party’s conference that she would introduce legislation providing equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples in the government’s next term. ”Labor has a proud history of tackling discrimination and introducing important social reform,” she said in the announcement.
Australia has a federalist system similar to the United States, with states passing laws that effect their own constituents and the federal government passing national legislation. Under the proposed legislation, couples from across Australia could come to Tasmania to marry, which Giddings argues will generate the Tasmanian economy through increased tourism. Gay and lesbian couples across Australia are already accorded the same legal rights as straight couples, but are not afforded the title of marriage.
Marriage law in Australia is more complicated than in the United States: although it was historically a province of state law, the Commonwealth took on marital law in 1961 under a new system of “concurrent law.” According to Professor George Williams, a constitutional law expert, marriage law in Australia is now shared between the states and Commonwealth, meaning that if the Commonwealth declines to afford marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples, the states may do so.
Tasmanians United for Marriage Equality released a video this weekend highlighting the benefits of marriage equality, and issued a statement on Premier Giddings’s announcement that said, “In the last 24 hours the response to Lara Gidding’s announcement from same-sex couples and their families across the state and the nation has been overwhelming, with emails pouring in asking ‘when can we marry?’.”
Meanwhile, here in the United States, POLITICO reported today that the Human Rights Campaign is contributing $1 million towards marriage equality ballot measures in four states, sending $250,000 each to Maine, Washington, Maryland and Minnesota. ”These ballot measures are the critical issues in November for our community, besides re-electing the president” and a small handful of specific races, said HRC’s Michael Cole-Schwartz. “And part of why they’re a big deal is because our opponents have rightfully had the talking points that all of these states have banned marriage for same-sex couples (in the past).”