It has officially been one year since same-sex marriage was signed into law by the Governor General, but what has happened for the LGBTI community since?
After 61.6% of people voted for marriage equality last year, more than 5,420 same-sex couples have gotten married across Australia. Also, the Northern Territory was the last region in the country to legalise same-sex adoption in March, making it now legal nationwide.
In July, the Uniting Church of Australia allowed ministers to conduct same-sex marriages, highlighting the “diversity of Christian belief”. Their new statement redefines marriage as “the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of two people to live together for life”.
Not all religions have suddenly become pro-LGBTI though, as the Anglican diocese in Sydney plans to ban same-sex weddings and end support for the LGBTI community on church property. During the postal plebiscite, this diocese donated $1 million to the ‘No’ campaign.
Last month, one of Australia’s biggest wedding magazines, White, announced that they were shutting down after they refused to feature same-sex weddings. The founders, Luke and Carla Burrell, said that the magazine was “no longer economically viable” after a number of advertisers stopped supporting them.
In terms of representation, street lights in Canberra made headlines a few weeks ago for featuring both male and female same-sex couples. While they still function like any ordinary traffic light signals, these eight new lights coincided with the one year anniversary of the same-sex marriage postal vote results. The ACT had the highest percentage of ‘yes’ votes in the country, with 74 percent.
Queer Indigenous activist and founder of Blackfullas for Marriage Equality, Edie Shepherd, told SBS that challenges still remain for Indigenous Australians in the LGBTI community, because representation matters.
“We know that young LGBTIQ kids have some pretty dark health outcomes, as can young Indigenous folk. So the concept of those two identities intersecting… you can’t be what you can’t see,” she says, “and you can’t define the narrative if you’re not in it.”
She says that she is determined to normalise the representation of queer Indigenous Australians, and remove the stigma that same-sex attraction is a “white, western, modern concept”.
Of course, one of the biggest changes in Australia since same-sex marriage was legalised is the Prime Minister of Australia, now Scott Morrison who notably campaigned against marriage equality.
Regardless of his views about same-sex marriage, the PM has proven throughout his political career that he is definitely not an ally of the LGBTI community.
In response to an article from The Daily Telegraph in September about teachers being trained to identify potential transgender children in the classroom, he tweeted “we do not need ‘gender whisperers’ in our schools. Let kids be kids”.
Unsurprisingly, this had great backlash from significant LGBTI campaigners, including LGBTI activist and executive director of Change.org, Sally Rugg, who highlighted that ‘one in two transgender kids who aren’t supported by their schools and families attempt suicide’.
Commentators questioned if Scott Morrison was politically wise to walk out on Kerryn Phelps’ maiden speech last week, as he is in a minority government and she is a key cross-bencher.
Phelps has been viewed as somewhat of a hero after being elected Member for Wentworth in October, despite being targeted by emails falsely claiming she pulled out of the by-election because she has HIV. Not only was she the first woman to represent the Sydney seat of Wentworth, but she is also a prominent figure in the LGBTI community, appearing in advertisements for the ‘Yes’ campaign during the postal survey period.
Is this what we deserve from our leader after such a success with marriage equality? After one Prime Minister claimed the legalisation of same-sex marriage as his own victory, he was soon replaced by a new Prime Minister who blatantly disregards and belittles the LGBTI community and its members. Australia overcame such a tough battle last year, but has society gotten any better?
Journalist Jill Stark, who was named Straight Ally of the Year in 2014 for her groundbreaking reporting on LGBTIQ issues, says that she has mixed reactions a year after the law changed.
“I feel very proud of the Australian community for supporting same-sex marriage and LGBTI people in general,” she says “and while we can celebrate that we now have equality under the law, I don’t think we can ever forget how we got there”.
“We knew going into that postal survey that the mental health organisations were telling us that it would cause enormous damage, and the results have clearly shown that. Not just young people, people of all ages had their basic human rights debated, and that leaves a lasting impact.”
A recent study from Science Direct looked at the structural stigma and the health and wellbeing of Australian LGBTI people after the same-sex marriage plebiscite. The study found that LGBTI people living in areas with higher ‘no’ votes’ in the postal survey reported comparatively worse life satisfaction, mental health and general wellbeing.
Anna Brown, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre and the former co-chair of Australian Marriage Equality, similarly shared mixed feelings with The Guardian.
“In the face of an obscure process designed to diminish and degrade the worth of LGBTIQ people, Australians stood up in record numbers for their family, friends, neighbours, workmates and teammates,” she said.
“It took 22 bills, countless parliamentary inquiries, multiple high court challenges, and a national plebiscite but we never gave up. Now there is no turning back.”
Sure, it took a while for same-sex marriage to become legalised, and yes it was a difficult process, but there is momentum now, and the only way from here is up.
There are a number of challenges that the LGBTI community still have to face however, including laws preventing gay men from donating blood, as well as issues affecting trans, gender diverse and intersex people.
While so much has been achieved for the LGBTI community one year on, there is still a long way to go and Australia is definitely on their way. After all, we are recognised as one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world.