As well as not allowing same-sex couples to marry in Australia, the Gillard government does its best to block Australians from entering same-sex marriages overseas.
It does this by refusing to issue same-sex partners with the key document they need to marry in another country.
That document, known as a Certificate of No-Impediment to Marriage or CNI, confirms to a foreign government that the Australian who wants to marry under its laws is not already married in Australia.
The Australian government routinely issues this document to heterosexual Australians marrying overseas, but it has an explicit policy of refusing them to same-sex partners.
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This causes an array of problems for Australians entering legal same-sex marriages in other countries. Many same-sex partners only find out about the CNI problem at the last minute and either have to call off their wedding or go through with the kind of unofficial commitment ceremony they wanted to avoid.
In many of the countries that allow same-sex marriages, marriage brings rights and entitlements not available to cohabiting couples. This leaves Australians whose same-sex marriages the Gillard government has blocked without recognition or protection in health care, pensions and immigration.
Then there’s the pain of being denied the same rights other Australians take for granted. According to Chris Murray, whose legal marriage to his Portuguese partner, Victor, could not take place because the government would not give him a CNI, “As much as I appreciated the support of friends and family, no amount of ‘don’t worry – it’s only a piece of paper’ or ‘but it’s your love that counts’ made up for the fact that my country was saying that my relationship was not only not worthy of recognition, but I had to be prohibited from having this relationship recognised elsewhere in the world.”
Because of these problems the Netherlands gives Australians an exemption from its CNI requirement (along with Zimbabweans). Meanwhile, the Norwegians are so angry that the Gillard government is pushing its prejudices down their throats, they attacked Australia’s same-s-x marriage ban at a recent UN human rights review.
But for the most part there’s nothing that countries who allow same-sex marriages can do about Australia’s CNI policy, and as their number increases so does the number of Australians who face the inconvenience, insecurity and indignity this policy creates.
The Australian government says it refuses to issue CNIs to same-sex couples because same-sex marriages aren’t recognised in Australia. But no-one is swallowing this.
According to Senior Lecturer in Law at the ANU, Wayne Morgan, “There is nothing in Australian law that would prevent a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage (being issued) to a same-sex couple marrying under the laws of another country. This is an internationally accepted document that has nothing to do with the validity of the marriage back in the couple’s own country.”
A 2009 Senate Committee inquiry into same-sex marriage agreed. It found that, “A decision by a sovereign nation to allow marriage between a couple of the same sex should be a matter for that nation, and not a matter against which Australia should throw up bureaucratic barriers.”
Since then the Government’s discriminatory policy has suffered another blow.
In 2010 Tasmania became the first Australian state or territory to acknowledge overseas same-sex marriages as state civil partnerships, giving them all the same rights as married couples in state AND federal law.
This creates an absurd situation where the Australian government is giving full marriage entitlements to legal unions it has tried to block on the basis that they are not recognised in Australia.
So why does the Gillard government maintain such a ridiculous, harmful and discriminatory policy?
It’s hard to see the current bureaucratic block to overseas same-sex marriages as anything but another mean-spirited attempt by the government to convince right-wing Christian lobbyists it despises same-sex marriages as much as they do.
Yet again loving, committed same-sex partners have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.
I’m confident this won’t last much longer.
With Galaxy Research finding that 75% of Australians believe same-sex marriages are inevitable, history is clearly on the side of equality.
If the Labor Party doesn’t reverse its discriminatory stance on same-sex marriages at its National Conference in December, the next generation of Australians will condemn it in the same way we now condemn those Labor governments that upheld the White Australia Policy.