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Same-sex unions are treated as de facto unions under Australian federal law, though each Australian state and territory is entitled to create their own laws with respect to same-sex relationship registers and same-sex partnership schemes. Same-sex couples are prevented from marrying due to a ban on same-sex marriage contained within the federal Marriage Act (1961) amended in 2004 by the Howard Government.
Following the Australian Human Rights Commission's report Same-Sex: Same Entitlements and an audit of Commonwealth legislation, in 2009 the Australian Government introduced several reforms designed to equalise treatment for same-sex couples and same-sex couple families. The reforms amended 85 Commonwealth laws to eliminate discrimination against same-sex couples and their children in a wide range of areas. The reforms came in the form of two pieces of legislation, the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws-General Law Reform) Act 2008 and the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws-Superannuation) Act 2008. These laws amended several other existing Commonwealth Acts to equalise treatment for same-sex couples and any children such couples may be raising with respect to the following areas:
For instance, with relation to social security and general family law, same-sex couples were not previously recognised as a couple for social security or family assistance purposes. A person who had a same-sex de facto partner was treated as a single person. The reforms ensured that same-sex couples were (for the first time under Australian law) recognised as a couple akin to opposite-sex partners. Consequently, a same-sex couple receives the same rate of social security and family assistance payments as an opposite-sex couple. Such reforms however, do not completely equalise treatment for same-sex couples, who for instance, do not have the same rights and entitlements as married heterosexual couples do with respect to workers' compensation death benefits, pensions for the partners of Defence Force veterans and access to carer's leave. Despite large equality of rights, Australia does not have a national registered partnership, civil union or same-sex relationship scheme.
In 2004, amendments to the Superannuation Industry Supervision Act to allow tax free payment of superannuation benefits to be made to the surviving partner on an interdependent relationships, included same sex couples, or a relationship where one person was financially dependent on another person.
Prior to 2008, same-sex couples were only recognised by the federal government in very limited circumstances. For example, since the 1990s, same-sex foreign partners of Australian citizens have been able to receive residency permits in Australia known as "interdependency visas". Following a national inquiry into financial and work-related discrimination against same-sex relationships, on 21 June 2007, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) released its Same-Sex: Same Entitlements report. The Commission identified 58 Commonwealth law statutes and provisions that explicitly discriminate against same-gender couples by using the term 'member of the opposite sex'.
The report found that 100 statutes and provisions under federal law discriminated against same-sex couples by using the term 'member of the opposite sex', from Aged Care, Superannuation, Childcare, Medicare (including the PBS) through to Pensions. "All the basics that opposite-gender couples are legally entitled to and take for granted"  were things same-sex couples were effectively barred from utilising under the former system.
There have been several attempts to legalise same-sex marriage nationwide via approval from both houses of the Federal Parliament. In August 2009, a same-sex marriage bill was introduced by the Australian Greens in the Senate. The bill was reviewed by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The largest protests for same-sex marriage in the nation's history took place in eight cities on 1 August, with an estimated 8,000 people attending. The Committee elected not to vote on the bill. On 25 February 2010, the Marriage Equality Bill 2009 was rejected in the Australian Senate by a vote of 45-5, with only the Greens voting in favour and many senators not in attendance. The Greens announced their intention to reintroduce a bill to legalise same-sex marriage sometime after the 2010 federal election.
The Inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012 involved an on-line survey, which received 276,437 responses, the largest response ever received by a Committee of the House of Representatives or Senate. 177,663 respondents were in favour of changing the law to recognise same-sex marriage, 98,164 were opposed to it and 610 were unsure.
In February 2012 these two bills to allow same-sex marriage in Australia were introduced in Parliament. The bills were essentially identical, both lifting the existing federal ban on same-sex marriages while letting religious ministers refuse to solemnise ceremonies inconsistent with their beliefs. On 19 September 2012, the lower house House of Representatives voted against passing its same-sex marriage bill by a margin of 98-42 votes. On 21 September 2012, the upper house Senate joined its counterpart in voting down same-sex marriage legislation, by a vote of 41-26. In both instances, the Liberal/National Coalition honoured its 2010 election promise to vote as a bloc against any same-sex marriage legislation.
Since winning Government at the 2013 election, the Coalition recently stated it could alter its position to be in favour of a conscience vote; with the matter to be decided in the Coalition party room when same-sex marriage legislation next comes before the parliament. In December 2013, Deputy Labor Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek announced she would introduce a private member's bill in parliament, seeking the assistance and co-sponsorship of Coalition Government Minister Malcolm Turnbull and a conscience vote among all parliamentarians. In February 2014, Mr Turnbull stated to News Corporation sources that a Coalition conscience vote on same-sex marriage legislation (if it comes before parliament) was "likely" and that the arguments against marriage reform "are not very persuasive".
States' and territories' have long had the ability to create laws with respect to relationships and the like. Since the Commonwealth introduced the Marriage Act Cth. 1961, marriage laws in Australia have been regarded as an exclusive Commonwealth power. The precise rights of states and territories with respect to creating state-based same-sex marriage laws have been complicated since the Howard Government amendment to the Marriage Act in 2004 to define marriage as the "exclusive union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others." In their December 2013 ruling striking down the ACT's same-sex marriage law, the High Court effectively determined that all laws with respect to marriage were an exclusive power of the Commonwealth and that no state or territory law legalising same-sex marriage or creating any type of marriage could operate concurrently with the federal Marriage Act; "the kind of marriage provided for by the [Marriage] Act is the only kind of marriage that may be formed or recognised in Australia". As a result, the only possible method for same-sex marriage legalisation to occur in Australia is via legislation passed into law by the Federal Parliament only.
Prior to that ruling, reports released by the New South Wales Parliamentary Committee on Social Issues and the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute have found that ...[a state parliament] has the power to legislate on the topic of marriage, including same-sex marriage. However, if New South Wales chooses to exercise that power and enact a law for same-sex marriage, the law could be subject to challenge in the High Court of Australia and that ...[no current arguments] present an absolute impediment to achieving state-based or Commonwealth marriage equality. With respect to territories', the ACT Government sought legal advice which suggested that its bill seeking to legalise same-sex marriage could run concurrently with the federal Government's statutory ban on same-sex marriage. Alternate legal advice suggests state and territory-based same-sex marriage laws are invalid. The current Abbott Government's acting Solicitor-General has advised federal Attorney-General George Brandis that the ACT's same-sex marriage law is inconsistent with the federal Government's laws whilst other sources have rated the ACT's law as 'doubtful' or impossible to pass judicial scrutiny. On 12 December 2013, the High Court of Australia struck down the ACT's marriage law.
Aside from the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania is the only sub-national jurisdiction to have passed same-sex marriage legislation in a chamber of its legislature. The state lower house passed same-sex marriage legislation by 13-11 votes in September 2012, though the state upper house subsequently voted against this legislation a few weeks later by a vote of 8-6.
Currently, only the Australian Capital Territory provides same-sex couples with the right to access a civil union. Under the federal laws, these unions are treated as de facto unions. In August 2012, the ACT's Civil Union Bill passed after legal advice demonstrated that the Federal government had removed its ability to legislate for territorial and state same-sex marriage after it defined marriage as only between man and woman in the Marriage Amendment Act 2004. The Civil Union bill grants many of the same rights to same-sex couples as people married under the Marriage Act. The Act was not challenged by the Gillard federal Government. The Act was to be repealed and civil unions were to be no longer accessible to same-sex couples upon commencement of the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013, which (if not struck down by the High Court) would have permanently legalised same-sex marriage in the Territory.
Same-sex couples have access to domestic partnership registries in New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. Same-sex couples do not share that right in South Australia, though such couples are referred to in state legislation as 'domestic partners' and may make a written agreement called a Domestic Partnership Agreement about their living arrangements, so as to be recognised by the state as domestic partners.
In New South Wales, on 4 June 2008, the New South Wales Parliament passed the Miscellaneous Acts Amendment (Same Sex Relationships) Bill 2008 which recognises co-mothers as legal parents of children born through donor insemination, provides birth certificates allowing two mothers to be recognised, creates amendments to 57 pieces of state legislation to ensure de facto couples, including same-sex couples, are treated equally with married couples, and creates amendments to the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act to ensure same-sex couples are protected from discrimination on the basis of their "marital or domestic status" in employment, accommodation and access to other goods and services. The Relationships Register Bill 2010 was introduced to the NSW Legislative Assembly on 23 April 2010, to provide conclusive proof of the existence of the relationship, thereby gaining all of the rights afforded to de facto couples under state and federal law. The bill was approved by the NSW Legislative Assembly on a 62–9 vote on 11 May 2010, and then by the NSW Legislative Council (upper house) on a 32–5 vote on 12 May. It was signed into law by the governor and entered into force on 1 July 2010.
In Tasmania, beginning 1 January 2004, the states' Relationships Act 2003 allowed same-sex couples to register their union as a type of domestic partnership in two distinct categories, Significant Relationships and Caring Relationships, with the state's Registry of Births, Death and Marriages. The new definition of partner or spouse, "two people in a relationship whether or not it's sexual", was embedded into 80 pieces of legislation, giving same-sex couples rights in making decisions about a partner's health, provides for guardianship when a partner is incapacitated, and gives same-sex couples equal access to a partner's public sector pensions. It also allows one member of a same-sex couple to adopt the biological child of their partner. In September 2010, the Tasmanian parliament unanimously passed the legislation to recognise same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions as registered partnerships under the Relationships Act 2003, making it the first Australian state or territory to do so.
In Victoria, in August 2001, the Statute Law Amendment (Relationships) Act 2001 and the Statute Law Further Amendment (Relationships) Act 2001 amended 60 Acts in Victoria to give same-sex couples, called domestic partners, some rights equal to those enjoyed by de facto couples, including hospital access, medical decision making, superannuation, inheritance rights, property tax, landlord/tenancy rights, mental health treatment, and victims of crime procedures. Local city registries have since been superseded by the state's Domestic Partnership Register which was enacted in December 2008. Both city registers remain active.
In Queensland, in December 2002, the states' Discrimination Law Amendment Act 2002 created a new, non-discriminatory definition of "de facto partner", affecting 42 pieces of legislation. This gave same-sex couples the same rights as de facto couples in most instances.
On 25 October 2011, Queensland Deputy Premier, Andrew Fraser, introduced the Civil Partnerships bill 2011 into the Queensland Legislative Assembly. The bill passed the Legislative Assembly on 30 November by a vote of 47 to 40, with those against including 4 from the Australian Labor Party. The Civil Partnerships Act 2011 allows for same-sex couples who are Queensland residents to enter into a civil partnership. Shortly after the change of government in the 2012 state elections, the LNP passed the "Civil Partnerships and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012". The new bill changed the name from "civil union" to "registered relationship" and prohibited the state from offering ceremonies for those who do register their relationship in this manner.
In South Australia, since 1 June 2007, 97 sections of legislation took effect which provide superannuation entitlements under four superannuation Acts, as well as rights concerning property ownership, inheritance, financial affairs, hospital access and other entitlements under South Australian law. The legislation does not include three areas of South Australian laws such as adoption and access to IVF and altrustic surrogacy.
This Family Relationships Act 1975 states that "Any two people who live together and present themselves as a couple will be covered by the legislation, regardless of whether or not their relationship is sexual". These Acts included 'domestic partner' in 97 separate Acts called the Statutes Amendment (Domestic Partners) Act 2006 (No 43) and the Statutes Amendment (Equal Superannuation Entitlements for Same Sex Couples) Act 2003 (No 13)
The Statutes Amendment (Domestic Partners) Act 2006 (Number 43), which took effect 1 June 2007, amended 97 Acts, dispensing with the term "de facto" and categorising couples as "domestic partners". This meant same-sex couples and any two people who live together are now covered by the same laws. Same-sex couples may make a written agreement called a Domestic Partnership Agreement about their living arrangements. This may be prepared at any time and is legal from the time it is made, but must meet other requirements, such as joint commitments, before being recognised as domestic partners.
In 2009 the Commonwealth Powers (De Facto Relationships) Act 2009 to allow the referrals of a de facto partners property and superannuation to the Commonwealth as family law under the Family Law Act 1975 (just as all other states had done previously) was assented to on 10.12.2009 - effective from 1.7.2010.
Same-sex de facto couples in all states and territories have much the same rights as opposite-sex de facto couples. However, the inability of same-sex couples to have conclusive evidence of their relationships in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Norfolk Island can make it difficult for them to access rights accorded to them under the law. The following list discusses states and territories without registered partnerships for same-sex couples: However, section 118 of The Australian Constitution (The Full Faith and Credit Section) would, in fact, mean that persons registered under the laws of States and Territories with Civil Partnership or Civil Union laws would be able to enforce their rights in juristications without specific enactments.
In Norfolk Island in 2005 the local government created the De Facto Relationships Act 2005, providing for domestic partnerships beginning in 2006. The legislation defines the criteria for a court to determine the eligibility of couples to be recognised as de facto couples, and requires an application to the Supreme Court. Circumstances of the relationship, which includes duration of the relationship, financial aspects, and shared responsibilities, are taken into account.
In the Northern Territory, in March 2004, the territory Government enacted the Law Reform (Gender, Sexuality and De Facto Relationships) Act 2003 to remove legislative discrimination against same sex couples in most areas of territory law and recognise same-sex unions as de facto unions. The Act removed distinctions based on a person's gender, sexuality or de facto relationship in approximately 50 Acts and Regulations. As in NSW and the ACT, reform has also included enabling the lesbian partner of a woman to be recognised as the parent of her partner's child across State law.
In Western Australia, the Acts Amendment (Lesbian and Gay Law Reform) Act 2002 removed all remaining legislative discrimination toward sexual orientation by adding the new definition of "de facto partner" into 62 Acts, provisions and statutes and created new family law designed to recognise same-sex unions as de facto unions.
There is an important difference in the source of power of The Commonwealth to legislate over married and de facto relationships. Marriage and ‘matrimonial causes’ are supported by sections 51(xxi) and (xxii) of the Constitution. The legal status of marriage is also internationally recognised whereas the power to legislate for de facto's and their financial matters relies on referrals by states to the Commonwealth in accordance with Section 51(xxxvii) of the Australian Constitution, where it states the law shall extend only to states by whose Parliaments the matter is referred, or which afterward adopt the law.
Thus, same sex or heterosexual, unmarried and also married couples living in The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France for example, have the right to choose their own legal status and respective rights and obligations easily, such as to have no community or to have community of property, as an active opt in system at time of first living together. This is in contrast to the Australian de facto and married regimes where all property is in the pool, unless a couple actively opt out with a binding financial contract drawn up by lawyers and they also have to be resident in Australia to do that.
On 13 September 2013, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government made the announcement that it will put forward a bill that will legalise same-sex marriage, following a decade-long attempt to legislate in the area. "We’ve been pretty clear on this issue for some time now and there’s overwhelming community support for this," Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said. "We would prefer to see the federal parliament legislate for a nationally consistent scheme, but in the absence of this we will act for the people of the ACT. The Marriage Equality Bill 2013 will enable couples who are not able to marry under the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961 to enter into marriage in the ACT. It will provide for solemnisation, eligibility, dissolution and annulment, regulatory requirements and notice of intention in relation to same-sex marriages." On 10 October 2013, federal Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed that the Commonwealth Government will challenge the proposed ACT bill, stating that the Coalition Government has significant constitutional concerns with respect to the ACT bill. The bill was debated in the ACT Legislative Assembly on 22 October 2013, and passed by 9 votes to 8.
However, the High Court ruled that the legal change was never valid and an official reversal of the bill was announced on 12 December 2013. The court found that s51(xxi) of the Constitution grants the Commonwealth Parliament the power to legislate with regard to marriage, and the federal definition of marriage overrides any state or territory definition under s109. The court did find, however, that "marriage" for the purposes of s51(xxi) includes same-sex marriage, thus clarifying that there is no constitutional impediment to the Commonwealth legislating for same-sex marriage in the future.
On 27 May 2004 the then federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock introduced the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004, intending to incorporate the common law definition of marriage into the Marriage Act 1961 and the Family Law Act. In June 2004, the bill passed the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the amendment by 38 votes to 6 on 13 August 2004. The bill subsequently received royal assent, becoming the Marriage Amendment Act 2004.
The amendment specifies the following:
Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.
Under section 46 of the Marriage Act, a celebrant or minister is required to say these words, or words to this effect, in every marriage ceremony.
The Labor shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon on the same day the amendment was proposed said that the Labor Opposition would not oppose the amendment, arguing that it did not affect the legal situation of same-sex relationships, merely putting into statute law what was already common law. The Family First senator supported the bill. The bill was also supported by the Nationals.
Despite having support of the major parties the bill was contested by sections of the community, human rights groups and some minor political parties. The Australian Greens opposed the bill, calling it the "Marriage Discrimination Act". The Australian Democrats also opposed the bill. Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett stated that the legislation devalues his marriage, and Greens Senator Bob Brown referred to John Howard and the legislation as "hateful". Brown was asked to retract his statements, but refused. Bob Brown also quoted as Australia having a "straight Australia policy".
Not all of Labor was in support of the bill. During the bill's second reading, Anthony Albanese, Labor MP for Grayndler said, "what has caused offence is why the government has rushed in this legislation in what is possibly the last fortnight of parliamentary sittings. This bill is a result of 30 bigoted backbenchers who want to press buttons out there in the community."
In June 2007, a Galaxy poll conducted for advocacy group GetUp! measured the opinions of 1,100 Australians aged 16 and over and found that 57% of respondents supported same-sex marriage, 37% were opposed and 6% were unsure. The poll also found that 71% of respondents supported same-sex couples having the same legal entitlements as opposite-sex de facto couples.
A June 2009 poll conducted by Galaxy Research and commissioned by the Australian Marriage Equality group measured the opinions of 1,100 Australians aged 16 and over and found that 60% of respondents supported the recognition of same-sex marriage, with 36% opposed and 4% undecided. Among Greens voters 82% supported same-sex marriage, whilst 74% of those aged 16–24 supported same-sex marriage. Those aged 50 or above were the only age bracket to oppose same-sex marriage recognition, at a 55% disapproval rate.
An October 2010 poll conducted by Galaxy Research and commissioned by Australian Marriage Equality measured the opinions of 1,050 Australians aged 18 and over and found that 62% of respondents supported the recognition of same-sex marriage, with 33% opposed and 5% undecided. The poll found 78% of respondents supported a conscience vote on the recognition of same-sex marriage, with 16% opposed and 6% undecided. Support was highest amongst those respondents aged 18–24 (84%), and who lived in South Australia (83%). The majority of respondents from each state and each age bracket were in support.
A March 2011 poll conducted by Essential Media found that support for same-sex marriage had fallen below 50% and opposition was up by 4%. 
A July 2011 poll of 543 people conducted by Roy Morgan Research measured the support for a number of positions on marriage and found that 68% of Australians support same-sex marriage and 78% classified marriage as a ‘necessary’ institution, with only 22% stating it was a 'unneseccary' institution.
A November 2011 Galaxy Research poll of over 1000 voters found that 80% agreed that Tony Abbott should allow the Liberal/National Coalition a conscience vote on same-same marriage legislation as the Australian Labor Party do. Support for a conscience vote among Coalition supporters reached an all-time high of 76%
In a February 2012 online poll of 1506 Australian adult members on the Nine Rewards website by Angus Reid Public Opinion found that 49% of respondents said same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry, 31% said they should be allowed to enter into civil unions but not marry and 14% opposed any legal recognition. No attempt was made to make the survey representative of the entire population, and the Nine Rewards website is associated with the Nine Network, an Australian television channel popular with older and more conservative viewers.
From February–April 2012 the House of Representatives conducted an online survey to provide a simple means for the public to voice their views on same-sex marriage and the two bills in the parliament which sought to legalise it, the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012. The survey closed on 20 April, having received approximately 276,000 responses, including about 213,500 comments. Of these responses, 64.3% supported same-sex marriage, or approximately 177,600 of the respondents. The report acknowledged that "The online survey was not a statistically valid, random poll. Respondents were self-selected, in that they chose to participate if they wished." 
A May 2013 Ipsos poll found that 54% of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage and another 20% supported another form of recognition for same-sex couples. Results from the August 2013 Vote Compass survey of Australian voters found that 52% of respondents supported same-sex marriage, 12% were neutral, and 36% believed that marriage "should only be between a man and a woman".
An August 2013 poll conducted by Fairfax Media and Nielson Polling found that 65% of respondents supported legalising marriage between same-sex couples, up 8 points since December 2011, while only 28% were opposed (down 7 points). Support was greater among women (75%) than men (55%) and greater among younger voters than older voters.
The Australian House of Representatives contains 150 seats. On 19 September 2012, a bill introduced by Labor MP Stephen Jones aimed at legalising same-sex marriage was defeated 42 to 98 votes. Labor MPs were allowed a conscience vote while Liberal Party Leader Tony Abbott did not allow a free vote for Liberal Party MPs.
MPs who voted to legalise same-sex marriage in September 2012:
|Mark Butler||Labor||Port Adelaide||SA|
|Peter Garrett||Labor||Kingsford Smith||NSW|
|Laura Smyth||Labor||La Trobe||VIC|
The following Representatives have made statements of support for same-sex marriage but voted against legalisation or did not vote:
|Michael Danby||Labor||Melbourne Ports||VIC|
|Wyatt Roy||Liberal National||Longman||QLD|
|Richard Di Natale||Greens||VIC|
The following Senators have made statements of support for same-sex marriage but voted against legalisation or did not vote:
In October 2007, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal overturned a decision by the Foreign Affairs Department refusing to issue a transgender woman a passport listing her as female because she is married to a woman. The tribunal ordered that she be issued a passport listing her as female, in accordance with her other official documents, thereby recognising the existence of a marriage between two persons who are legally recognised as female.
LGBT rights in Australian states and territories: