Marriage equality in Australia has now been achieved for many couples who were married abroad before the law was changed.
The Census 2016 showed that 46,800 couples of the same sex live together in Australia. Three thousand and fourteen of these couples reported that they were married to someone else of the same gender (presumably because the marriage took place overseas). When we add this number to the number of marriages of the same sex registered in the past six months, over 10% of couples of the same sex who live together have now been married.
The “No” campaign warned that the institution of marriage would be ruined if it were opened to non-heterosexuals. Ads claimed that students would role-play being in same-sex relationships, and radical LGBT gender and sex education would be mandatory. Has been particularly aggressive in its attacks on Safe Schools, a national program designed to stop bullying of LGBT youth.
Read more: How the Anglican Church has hardened its stance against same-sex marriage.
So, have any of these fears been realized? The answer seems to be a resounding “no.” If anything, education about sexual orientation and gender identity within schools is becoming more restricted.
The South Australian government, for example, has stopped funding Safe Schools two years before its contract with the service provider was set to expire. This means that the program will be ending in secondary schools by July 13th. The government says that a general antibullying program will replace the program. However, this does not acknowledge that LGBTI individuals have significantly worse mental health than other Australians and disproportionately higher suicide rates.
Matthew Guy, the leader of the opposition in Victoria, has promised to cancel the Safe Schools Program should the Coalition win the next elections. Marriage equality may not be the catalyst to more inclusive education.
In the campaign surrounding the marriage equality survey, opponents also claimed that allowing couples of the same sex to marry would result in a significant violation of religious freedom. In order to allay concerns about religious freedom, the Turnbull Government launched an investigation. The panel’s report was delivered last month but has yet to be released by the government.
There is concern among human rights advocates about the fact that the government, rather than limit the exemptions religious organisations enjoy from antidiscrimination legislation, will increase the extent of discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identities.
If the American experience is any indication, such concerns are not without basis. Once marriage equality opponents in the US lost their battle, they began to argue that service providers with religious beliefs that oppose homosexuality should have the right to treat LGBTIQ individuals less favourably. In the US Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop, a Colorado bakery refused to bake a wedding cake for same-sex couples.
The Supreme Court upheld Masterpiece Cakeshop’s claim, but only on the basis that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had handled the initial discrimination complaint in an unfair and biased manner. The judges were clear that providers of services should not be able to refuse to offer goods or services to couples who are the same gender. Justice Kennedy stated that discrimination against the same-sex couple would lead to:
A community-wide stigma that is inconsistent with the history of civil rights laws ensuring equal access to public accommodations, goods, and services.
The Australian Christian Lobby already stated that this decision supports their argument that bakers and florists should be allowed to refuse to supply goods and services to same-sex couples.
As my colleague Luke Beck pointed out, the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling does not support this position. The Masterpiece case, on the other hand, says that those who have been accused of discrimination deserve a fair trial and that homosexuals are entitled to dignity treatment.
There is more to do
The Marriage Act was amended to allow couples of the same gender to marry. This was a major step forward. It is not a panacea. A law reform will not lead to equality. South Africa serves as a reminder. South Africa is a stark reminder of this. Although it has constitutional protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identification since 1996, it remains a dangerous place for LGBT individuals, with disproportionately high rates of hate crimes. In a 2017 report, four out of 10 LGBT South Africans were aware of someone who was murdered for being lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, or transgender.
Read more: On marriage equality, Australia’s progressive instincts have been crushed by political failure.
In Australia, the reform of marriage laws that we witnessed six months ago is just one piece of the jigsaw puzzle, albeit an important one. But equally important is changing the hearts and minds of individuals who continue to oppose equal rights for LGBT people.
The goal of a holistic approach is to change public opinion. This can be achieved by amending laws. It will be impossible to eliminate discrimination against LGBT individuals until there is a positive representation of sexuality and gender diversity in film, in education, in media, and from leaders of religion.
When we no longer hear people argue that they are entitled to discriminate against LGBT people, we will have truly achieved equality.