Same-Sex Marriage – Why The Piece Of Paper Matters

While all the debate has been going on, I’ve been quietly thinking about how the landscape has changed for the gay and lesbian community over my professional life. Since I started work as a financial planner, I can happily say that many of the overt elements of discrimination have been removed: we have seen changes to tax law; superannuation law; Centrelink and family law. Same-sex couples are granted taxation benefits as a couple; are able to be paid superannuation; are treated as a couple for Centrelink purposes, and have full access to the family law court, in the exact same way that heterosexual de-facto couples do. Given that these specific penalties have been removed, there are people who ask why, then, is it necessary to open up marriage to same sex couples?

Well for one, there are issues that arise when those couples try to access this ‘equality’ under the law. When there is no marriage, there is a burden of proof to demonstrate that the relationship exists. For example when a husband dies, a wife can present her marriage certificate as ‘proof’ of the relationship to a superannuation company. By comparison, a member of a same-sex couple might be required to show evidence of joint bank accounts, domestic living arrangements, social recognition of the relationship etc. Under our current laws when accessing rights as a couple, the process for same-sex and hetero-sexual de-facto couples appears to be the same on paper, we cannot however pretend that the experience is equivalent. Same-sex couples are much more likely to have experienced discrimination, and feel a lack of acceptance of themselves and their relationship from institutions, the community and amongst their own families. It is against this backdrop, and at a time when they are at their most vulnerable (during periods of unemployment, illness or death) that a same-sex couple would be required to prove that their relationship had been ‘real’. It is at this time that acceptance and inclusion needs to be institutionalised not just tolerated.

There are those that hold that the position that they agree we should allow same-sex couples to have equivalent rights, and the act of a civil registration of the relationship should be sufficient to get over the issues. I don’t buy it. The fact that we are not allowing some of our community to access the same institution based on sexual preference reinforces and institutionalises ‘otherness’.

I’m not one to throw around labels. I don’t think they are helpful. You don’t have to be a misogynist to behave in a manner that reinforces a sexist system. You don’t have to be a racist to say something which contain a racial slur. I don’t jump to assume that everyone who has a reservation about same-sex marriage must by default be homophobic. What I do assert however is that a legal system that denies the ability of two people to marry based upon their gender and sexuality is outdated and discriminatory. It cannot be in the interests of the broader community to continue to entrench and institutionalise inequality.

Finance Women is dedicated to supporting the financial security, confidence and independence of Australian women (and men), this can only be truly achieved when all members of our community have full and free access to the legal and social institutions that the broader community enjoy.

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