This weekend marks 12 years since the Howard Government, with the support of the Labor Opposition, amended the Marriage Act to legislate the exclusion of same-sex couples from the celebration of marriage.
This was done in response to Australians getting married overseas in a number of European countries, Canada, and a handful of American states that had embraced marriage equality. The then government wanted to make clear that these marriages wouldn't be recognised and wanted to stymie any court challenge that could have led to potentially amending the Marriage Act.
Support for same-sex marriage was as low as 38 percent back then, with even less support in the Parliament. Now it sits at around 70 percent across the country, with solid support from all the major parties and independents. Despite the challenge of the Government still denying its MPs a free vote and a potential unnecessary plebiscite, it is important to celebrate the progress that has seen significant support grow for marriage equality and the LGBTI community.
Like many people in the LGBTI community, it was the amending of the Marriage Act in 2004 that got me engaged in the issue and led to me joining Australian Marriage Equality a few years later. Since 2004, our dedicated team of volunteers have worked against the odds to increase support across the nation. Because of their huge efforts there has been enormous progress; numerous state-based laws now recognise overseas same-sex marriages, Parliamentary inquiries recommending reform, and a broad coalition of support right across society -- from clergies to local councils to football clubs.
In 2008, the first corporates came on board to support same-sex marriage and finally recognise their employees who were in same-sex marriages. The early supporters included Seek, Qantas, and the Commonwealth Bank.
Since then, nearly 1000 organisations representing millions of Australian employees and customers have signed on to back marriage equality and encourage their workforces to talk about why marriage equality matters for all.
The marriage equality campaign has also played a significant role in getting Australians engaged in Parliamentary processes, with supporters of reform breaking records at state and federal Parliamentary enquiries. A Senate Inquiry into Sarah Hanson-Young's 2010 Marriage Equality Bill received over 45,000 submissions in support, breaking the record for the number of submissions ever received. In 2012, more than 170,000 people told a Federal House of Representatives committee that they supported marriage equality.
Of course, a historic moment for both the Australian Labor Party and the marriage equality movement was in 2011 when Labor adopted marriage equality as part of their national platform following a strong campaign internally by Rainbow Labor and supporters across the country including rallies in every major city.
Support for marriage equality has also grown within the Coalition. The President of the NSW Upper House, Don Harwin, was the first State or Federal Coalition MP to publicly support marriage equality, when he spoke on the Relationships Register Bill in 2010. Former LNP Senator Sue Boyce was the first member of the Federal Coalition to cross the floor on the matter in support of a bill to recognise overseas same-sex marriages.
During this period of time, many prominent Australians including Justice Michael Kirby, Professor Kerryn Phelps, entertainer Magda Szubanski, Olympian Ian Thorpe, Group Captain Cate McGregor, radio host Geoff Field and many others have all shown the generosity of spirit to provide important visibility for the reform and encourage others to come out in support of equality for LGBTI Australians.
Whatever our next challenge is, we must face it united and with the confidence of what has been achieved so far, the dedicated support of Australians of all walks of life, and the knowledge that finally achieving equality will be one of our nation's proudest and most celebrated moments.