• Participants are seen taking part in the 38th annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, in Sydney, Saturday, March 5, 2016. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)Source: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
Reforms in South Australia look likely to pass, though reforms in Victoria face a more uncertain future.
Ben Winsor

6 Dec 2016 - 3:52 PM  UPDATED 7 Dec 2016 - 4:34 PM

Update: Birth Certificate legislation has passed in South Australia, while both Victorian bills were blocked by Liberal and cross-bench opposition. Several more reform bills will be considered by South Australia's parliament. 

Of the loss in Victoria, Anna Brown told SBS: 

“These Bills represented crucial steps to improving the lives of LGBTI Victorians and it was deeply disappointing to see the Liberal party fail to support them, particularly when so much of the debate reflected misunderstanding and lack of compassion for the discrimination and disadvantage faced in people’s day to day lives.”

With legislation up for debate in both South Australian and Victorian state parliaments, today has the potential to be a significant step forward in Australian LGBT+ law reform.

Anna Brown, Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre and Australians for Equality Co-Chair, tells SBS that “it’s a deluge of LGBTI law reform today – it’s an LGBTI reform bonanza.”

Brown says it’s likely that South Australia will pass four pieces of legislation which impact on same-sex couples and transgender people. Victoria is also considering two LGBT+ legal reforms. 

Victoria is also considering two LGBT+ legal reforms, one of which failed to pass this afternoon. 

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In South Australia, the list includes an adoption bill which will achieve equality for same-sex couples; a birth certificate bill which will enable trans people to change the listed gender without surgery; and an altruistic surrogacy bill which will pave the way for non-commercial surrogacy arrangements.

Perhaps the most high-profile piece of legislation, however, would create a South Australian relationships register to address some of the issues created by the lack of same-sex marriage at a federal level.

South Australia would join NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland and the ACT – which already have federally recognised registries.

The legislation comes after a high-profile case of discrimination involving a gay British couple in January this year.

After Marco Bulmer-Rizzi’s husband died while the pair were on honeymoon in South Australia, he was shocked to find that the funeral director wouldn’t recognise their relationship and the death certificate would read ‘never married’.

A similar case in the US helped bring marriage equality before the Supreme Court, with their legal victory overturning same-sex marriage bans across the country.

In South Australia, the government intervened to have the relationship recognised before the certificate was issued, with Labor Premier Jay Weatherill promising to rectify the situation, saying it made him “deeply ashamed”.

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“It’s often at the most difficult times, when someone’s in hospital or passed away, that being able to produce evidence of your relationship is most important,” Brown tells SBS.

“The lack of marriage equality at a federal level has a flow-on effect on the way service providers deal with people,” she says.

Even when a same-sex relationship should be recognised as de facto under the law, in practice couples often run into difficulty.

The reform will likely also make it easier for South Australians with foreign partners to have their relationships recognised for visa purposes.

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But while Brown is optimistic about the legislation passing in South Australia – both major parties will grant conscience votes, she says – the legislation in Victoria faces an uncertain future

Legislation which would have narrowed discrimination exemptions for religious employers has failed in Victorian parliament this afternoon, with another piece of legislation related to birth certificate alterations still facing a vote. 

Under the failed legislation, religious institutions would have been required to show an ‘inherent requirement’ for discrimination relating to a particular position, Brown says, drawing a distinction between a religious educator on one hand, and a school gardener on the other.

"It makes it more difficult for a teacher to be fired if a school finds out they are gay, if they have successfully been performing their role for years without any issues," she says, "obviously if they are performing well then it is difficult to see how they were not meeting the inherent requirements of the role."

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