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Leading the way on LGBTQI rights

March 04, 2021

Our small Territory made national news in 2013 when we passed legislation to legalise same-sex marriage. We were the first and only jurisdiction in Australia to independently push this legislation. Yet the conservative Liberal Abbott Government pushed back and challenged the legislation which was soon voided by the High Court. While 2013 was a historical year for the ACT LGBTQI community, Canberra has been leading the way on LGBTQI rights for decades. 

The Homosexual Law Reform Society of the ACT was established in the late 1960s and is understood to be one of the first gay and lesbian rights movement groups in Australia. 

In 1994 the ACT was the first jurisdiction in Australia to legally recognise same-sex couples when we passed the Domestic Relationships Act. 

In 2003 and 2004 ACT passed 6 crucial pieces of legislation to further protect same-sex couples and LGBTQI peoples

  • Legislation (Gay, Lesbian and Transgender) Amendment Act 2003[8]
  • Discrimination Amendment Act 2003[9]
  • Parentage Act 2004[10]
  • Sexuality Discrimination Legislation Amendment Act 2004[11]
  • Human Rights Act 2004[12]

This legislation also allowed for joint adoption petitions by same-sex couples

The ACT faced significant push back from the Federal Liberal Government in 2006 when ACT became the first jurisdiction in Australia to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions under the Civil Unions Bill. This bill intended to provide equal recognition with under the law for same or opposite-sex couples in a ‘civil union’. Just days after the new legislation was passed, the Commonwealth Government moved to disallow the act. Later the same year ACT tried again by introducing the Civil Partnerships Bill with ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell, stating "It's still our intention to give the same level of recognition provided for in the Civil Unions Act." It was blocked again in early 2007 by the Commonwealth Howard Government. 

Finally, in May 2008 the Civil Partnerships Act was passed without contention which gave same-sex couples greater access to superannuation, taxation, and social security reforms, but did compromise by eliminated any ceremonial aspects. 

2009 and 2012 saw more work push forward to become the first territory to legalise civil partnerships ceremonies for same-sex couples with the Partnerships Amendment Bill 2009 followed by the Civil Unions Act 2012.

In 2013 Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said. “We’ve been pretty clear on this issue for some time now and there’s overwhelming community support for this. We would prefer to see the federal parliament legislate for a nationally consistent scheme, but in the absence of this we will act for the people of the ACT." On the 22nd of October 2013, the ACT Assembly passed the Marriage Equality Bill which enabled couples who were not able to enter marriage under Commonwealth law to do so under ACT legislation. 

Yet again, there was push back. Not from Canberrans or from the LGBTQI community, but from the Federal Liberal Government of the day. Then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Attorney-General George Brandis were quick to challenge the legislation. The full bench of the High Court heard the Commonwealth’s case against the ACT legislation and in mid-December ruled that marriage was a matter for Federal Parliament and ACT’s Marriage Act could not operate concurrently with the Federal Marriage Act as it then stood. The marriages of the 31 same-sex couples in the 5 days between the law's implementation and its annulment by the High Court were nullified. 

In 2017 ACT recorded Australia’s highest YES vote in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, reiterating our community’s ongoing and persistent support for our LGBTQI friends. ACT’s YES vote came in at 74%, followed by Victoria at 64.9%. ACT also registered the highest participation rate of 82.5%. 

ACT Labor is proud to have led the way on progressive movements over the last three decades and we look forward to continuing to do so.