LGBTI rights Australia in 2013 – down but not out

2013 saw many gains and set backs in the fight for LGBTI rights in Australia - GSN looks back on a year of struggle in the Great Southern Land

LGBTI rights Australia in 2013 – down but not out
27 December 2013

2013 was a tumultuous year for LGBTI rights in Australia, with significant victories on the road to reform but also significant short term obstacles put in its way.

The LGBTI community started 2013 on a bit of a high with the 2012 national conference of the then ruling Australian Labor Party adopting same-sex marriage as part of its party platform in December of 2012 – though the party stopped short of binding MPs to vote for the reform.

Just a few months later in May of 2013 ousted Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced his support for same-sex marriage, becoming the most prominent person in the party to back allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Many saw his going public as a supporter as part of positioning himself to retake leadership of the party and in June, following a poor series of results in the polls for Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Rudd did just that – retaking the leadership from Gillard who had herself rolled Rudd from the leadership in June of 2010.

During the 2013 election campaign Rudd promised that he would introduce legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry in his first 100 days in office during a televised debate with Liberal-National Coalition leader Tony Abbott.

However Abbott subsequently won the election, though he opened the door to his party room reconsidering whether to allow Government MPs a conscience vote on the issue with many prominent Liberals now open about their support on the issue.

With reform stalling at a national level both under Julia Gillard’s prime ministership and then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the campaign for marriage equality increasingly began to focus on advancing reform at a state level, with bills promised for the reform in the states of New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania.

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage was passed by Tasmania’s lower house but failed to pass its upper house despite constitutional experts and a New South Wales state inquiry finding such laws would be constitutional.

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage was also defeated in the New South Wales parliament after New South Wales Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell allowed his MPs a conscience vote but came out against the bill despite supporting same-sex marriage under national laws.

O’Farrell was joined by three other Liberal state premiers in 2013 in calling on Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to allow a conscience vote for his MPs as conservative supporters of same-sex marriage grew louder in their support for the reform.

Then on 3 December the Australian Capital territory passed the first law allowing same-sex couples to marry on Australian soil – but the Australian Government pledged to challenge the law in the High Court of Australia.

Dozens of couples married in a brief window of a few days in Australia’s capital Canberra but the High Court then invalidated them on 12 December.

However the court’s decision was not all bad as it also decided that the Australian Parliament could pass a law allowing same-sex couples to marry if it wanted to and that such marriages would be constitutional.

This means that when the Australian Parliament does decide to legalize same-sex marriage opponents will not be able to challenge that in the court.

December also saw the Australian Government combine with Greens senators to block an attempt to establish an inquiry into whether to hold a referendum on banning same-sex marriage in a surprise move.

Same-sex marriage was not the only issue on which Australia gained progress, with transgender and intersex issues advancing as well.

The Australian Capital Territory announced it would allow people to be recognized as their preferred gender regardless of whether they had undergone reassignment surgery in November, while in October an Australian Parliament committee recommended that intersex children not be surgically assigned a gender until they are old enough to make an informed decision about whether to undergo that.

2013 also saw intersex people included in national anti-discrimination legislation for the first time alongside gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in a long awaited reform.

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