Senate Debates Foreign Marriages Bill To Protect Same-Sex Couples

04/02/2016 2:31 PM AEDT | Updated July 15, 2016 12:51
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CANBERRA -- The federal Senate has debated a bill proposing Australian law recognises marriages conducted overseas, after the case of an English man's husband not being recorded on the death certificate when he died in South Australia.

The Recognition of Foreign Marriages Bill 2014 came up for its second reading debate in the Senate on Thursday, with several senators speaking for and against the proposed piece of legislation which would amend the Marriage Act 1961 to "remove the prohibition of the recognition of same sex marriages solemnised in a foreign country; and provide that these marriages are recognised under the laws of Australia".

The Bill was introduced by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in May 2014, but Thursday's second reading debate was its first resurfacing in the chamber since its initial introduction almost 21 months ago.

"This Bill offers a modest and practical step forward to marriage equality and it is consistent with the foundational Australian ideal of equality before the law," Hanson-Young said upon introducing the Bill in 2014.

The Bill's resurfacing in the Senate seems spurred by the January case of English man Marco Bulmer-Rizzi, who was not recognised on the death certificate of his husband David after he died in South Australia after a fall on holiday. South Australia, unlike other states around the country, does not recognise marriages performed overseas.

While same-sex is still not legal in Australia, Rodney Croome, the national director for Australian Marriage Equality, told The Huffington Post Australia in January that "hundreds" of same-sex couples travel overseas to countries like New Zealand to get legally married. The Recognition of Foreign Marriages Bill 2014 would override state legislation and mandate the recognition of marriages -- including same-sex marriages -- performed overseas.

Speaking in support of the Bill, Senator Robert Simms said it would "end a cruel and Draconian feature of Australian law". Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia do not recognise same-sex marriages, while NSW, Queensland and Tasmania do, with Victoria in the process of legislating the issue.

"We do have to remedy this complex web of relationship laws so married couples receive the acknowledgement they deserve. Recognition should not stop at state borders.

"Imagine the trauma of losing your husband, your partner in life, and having that trauma compounded by being treated in such a cruel and degrading way. Had Marco Bulmer-Rizzi's husband died just 400 kilometres east in NSW, a state that does recognise overseas same-sex marriage, then he would not have been put through this experience. The cruel reality of these laws have been exposed by this tragic incident."

"It is clear there is a need for national action."

Victorian Greens Senator Janet Rice said it was "the least we can do... about legalising and allowing same-sex equal marriage."

"Other countries in the world have moved on, where Australia has not been able to so far... the very least we can do is recognise the marriages that have become law in other countries where they have moved forward," she said.

"We need to be changing our legislation so these completely ridiculous, old-fashioned, outdated notions of who is able to be married, disappear."

Conservative senators, however, spoke against the Bill. Senator David Fawcett spoke against the Bill, claiming the Bill for federal recognition was not necessary and that state legislation was already adequate.

"The remedy for the kind of problems [Marco] faced... is actually found in state legislation," he said.

Fawcett also said that, as Australian law defines marriage as being between a man and woman, a law recognising same-sex marriages conducted overseas should not come into force in opposition to Australia's "sovereign law."

Senator Cory Bernardi also cited Australia's sovereignty as a factor in opposing the Bill.

"At the heart of this Bill is a challenge to Australia's sovereignty to determine the laws that apply in this country and not be beholden to laws in other countries. That's the essence of what we're being asked to do. Something is not allowed in this country, it not legal in this country, but we have to recognise the laws of foreign nations even though they conflict with our own legislation," he said.

"It's a way of subverting Australia's [self-determination]. I think that is wrong."

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