Asia-Pacific

Same-sex couples married overseas will be automatically recognised in Australia if law changes

Sophie and Kay pose at their wedding in Nottingham, UK.
Sophie Partridge and Kay Harrison pose at their wedding in Nottingham, UK. Source: Supplied

Thousands of Australian same-sex couples married overseas will see their previously invalid vows automatically recognised if the bill becomes law.

Sophie Partridge and Kay Harrison got married in the UK last year but when the two Australian women returned home, their vows went unrecognised by the Australian government.

"I actually think I had underestimated how much that would affect me," Ms Partridge said.

"You've gone through this very big and meaningful event in your life and then to come back somewhere where that's just not recognised legally... That had quite a big impact."

Ms Partridge and Ms Harrison are like thousands of other same-sex couples in Australia who decided to get married overseas rather than wait for laws here to catch up.

James McGill and Justin Farrell sign their marriage papers Sydney at the British consulate.
James McGill and Justin Farrell sign their marriage papers Sydney at the British consulate.
Supplied

But if the same-sex marriage bill passes into law, their marriages will be automatically and retrospectively recognised in Australia.

"There will be no need to take extra steps of registration," Australian Marriage Equality co-chair Anna Brown told SBS News.

"This will be an incredibly joyous occasion when they will have relationships recognised, not only overseas, but in their home country."

The bill currently before the House of Representatives states a marriage is lawful if "the marriage was recognised as valid under the law of the foreign country" or if it was performed "in the presence of a diplomatic or consular officer of a foreign country".

This means it will also include people who got married in foreign consulates on Australian soil.

Two men looking forward to the official recognition of their marriage are Justin Farrell and James McGill.

They were married in Sydney's British consulate overlooking Circular Quay earlier this year.

The pair were engaged for a number of years and had delayed getting married in the hope Australia would eventually pass same-sex marriage laws.

But as the years dragged on, James' UK citizenship became a tempting factor to solemnise their relationship.

"We just got sick of waiting basically," Mr Farrell said.

While the occasion was a joyous one, it was hard to step back to reality once they left the British consulate.

"Just meeting all the staff there who are all so accepting of it, where it's just such a regular and normal thing for them to be around… then to walk back into Australia and have it not recognised was pretty disappointing."

Mr Farrell said he would be "relieved" when the bill passed and his marriage was automatically recognised.

"To know that there are no more hoops to have to jump through... We don't have to prove ourselves again, we don't have to do anything else, it's all just there now," he said.

The same-sex marriage bill passed the Senate last Thursday and is expected to pass the House of Representatives by the end of the week.