Same sex marriage: Does the law make LGBTI inclusion difficult?


Parliament’s renewed plebiscite debate highlights the subtle ways Australia’s same sex marriage laws sit out-of-step with modern workplaces.

As support for same sex marriage surges to record highs in Australia, the topic of a long-awaited— and long-debated – plebiscite dominated another week of Parliamentary sittings.

While the Turnbull Government weathers internal debate over the processes involved in the plebiscite vote, which will take the question of the legalisation of same-sex marriage to the Australian public, two separate bills have been introduced to the lower house: a private member’s bill by Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek; and another introduced by Adam Bandt and co-sponsored by independents Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan.

Australia is now trailing countries such as Ireland and the US in the passing of a same sex marriage bill. Not only that, workplaces across the country, where non-discrimination policies that promote fair and equal treatment of employees, are subtly affected by Australia’s current Marriage Act.

The Diversity Council of Australia cites a range of studies in their assertion that “stigma and prejudice foster less cohesive and productive workplaces.” According to the council, who lead research in diversity practices and provide resources to Australian businesses, companies do all they can to celebrate diversity and promote inclusion, but they are “pushing it uphill” while the law continues to discriminate against a segment of their staff. And it’s this subtle discrimination that hinders HR management’s ability to enact non-discriminatory practices comprehensively.

In the US, more than 200 top US companies, including Citigroup, Apple and Mars, intervened in the US Supreme Court case that overturned the federal ban on recognising same sex marriage. Their argument was that the ban made it harder for them to treat staff equitably. In Australia, the council describes, the situation is slightly different, as health benefits rely less on employment, and “de facto and same sex couples have many of the same benefits as married couples.” However, there are still disparities, particularly in areas such as superannuation.

With a Fairfax Ipsos poll conducted in June finding that seven out of 10 Australian voters supported a change in the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to wed, surely it’s time that Australia’s federal law catches up to across-the-board equality practices already in place in workplaces across the country.

Editor’s note: Since this article was published, the Federal Cabinet has approved a same sex marriage plebiscite for 11 February, 2017. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed he will introduce the bill to Parliament this week. 

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Janelle White
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Janelle White

Same sex marriage is just one of the issues. What about gender identity. If someone doesn’t identify as either male or female, what choice do organisations have when all systems from payroll software to medical software, and I’m sure many others, do not allow for any other choice. The annual report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency further frustrates an organisation’s ability to be truly inclusive.

David
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David

There has been a lot of research showing that for all intents and purposes de-facto relationships, whether heterosexual or same sex (same gender??) enjoy the same benefits as married couples – and changing the law will not change this. I am therefore surprised that you are suggesting that organisations are currently discriminating against individuals and that the legalising of SSM will somehow mean that a workplace will no longer discriminate against it’s staff. Does this mean that there are presently workplaces discriminating against their staff and there is no ability for redress through current workplace laws, policies and practices? If… Read more »

Simon
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Simon

I tend to agree with David’s observations on this article. Suggesting that somehow the Marriage Act is limiting/affecting (even subtly) the ability/responsibility of Workplaces to treat people equitably is a confusing argument given the raft of legislation that already enshrines equal protection under the law to all people wholly irrespective of relationship preference. Also, I’m pretty certain that same sex relationships are already considered legitimate and equal in terms of superannuation entitlements – in exactly the same way that all defacto relationships are recognised. Disparities have been gone for some time now. Would be helpful for the author to cite… Read more »

Tracey
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Tracey

Companies are not limited by laws in terms of how they treat their employees. Particular legislation may not include specific persons/relationships or be deemed equitable, but a company is able to include such persons/relationships within their own policies. When benefits are provided by third parties there may be an issue (ie health insurance etc), but for benefits and entitlements provided by the employer, legal definitions need not be a limit.

Lynden
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Lynden

I would also agree with David, Simon and Tracey on this issue. I don’t think this article addresses clearly how a change in laws relating to SSM will impact workplace practices. How are organisations “pushing it uphill” when the law already recognises de-facto same-sex relationships and provides legal protections alongside it? Nothing (including the law) prevents or prohibits organisations from going above and beyond minimums enshrined in law to promote inclusion and diversity. I think the link between legalising SSM and a positive change in workplace practices is perhaps a little tenuous.

More on HRM

Same sex marriage: Does the law make LGBTI inclusion difficult?


Parliament’s renewed plebiscite debate highlights the subtle ways Australia’s same sex marriage laws sit out-of-step with modern workplaces.

As support for same sex marriage surges to record highs in Australia, the topic of a long-awaited— and long-debated – plebiscite dominated another week of Parliamentary sittings.

While the Turnbull Government weathers internal debate over the processes involved in the plebiscite vote, which will take the question of the legalisation of same-sex marriage to the Australian public, two separate bills have been introduced to the lower house: a private member’s bill by Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek; and another introduced by Adam Bandt and co-sponsored by independents Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan.

Australia is now trailing countries such as Ireland and the US in the passing of a same sex marriage bill. Not only that, workplaces across the country, where non-discrimination policies that promote fair and equal treatment of employees, are subtly affected by Australia’s current Marriage Act.

The Diversity Council of Australia cites a range of studies in their assertion that “stigma and prejudice foster less cohesive and productive workplaces.” According to the council, who lead research in diversity practices and provide resources to Australian businesses, companies do all they can to celebrate diversity and promote inclusion, but they are “pushing it uphill” while the law continues to discriminate against a segment of their staff. And it’s this subtle discrimination that hinders HR management’s ability to enact non-discriminatory practices comprehensively.

In the US, more than 200 top US companies, including Citigroup, Apple and Mars, intervened in the US Supreme Court case that overturned the federal ban on recognising same sex marriage. Their argument was that the ban made it harder for them to treat staff equitably. In Australia, the council describes, the situation is slightly different, as health benefits rely less on employment, and “de facto and same sex couples have many of the same benefits as married couples.” However, there are still disparities, particularly in areas such as superannuation.

With a Fairfax Ipsos poll conducted in June finding that seven out of 10 Australian voters supported a change in the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to wed, surely it’s time that Australia’s federal law catches up to across-the-board equality practices already in place in workplaces across the country.

Editor’s note: Since this article was published, the Federal Cabinet has approved a same sex marriage plebiscite for 11 February, 2017. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed he will introduce the bill to Parliament this week. 

5
Leave a reply

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Notify me of
Janelle White
Guest
Janelle White

Same sex marriage is just one of the issues. What about gender identity. If someone doesn’t identify as either male or female, what choice do organisations have when all systems from payroll software to medical software, and I’m sure many others, do not allow for any other choice. The annual report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency further frustrates an organisation’s ability to be truly inclusive.

David
Guest
David

There has been a lot of research showing that for all intents and purposes de-facto relationships, whether heterosexual or same sex (same gender??) enjoy the same benefits as married couples – and changing the law will not change this. I am therefore surprised that you are suggesting that organisations are currently discriminating against individuals and that the legalising of SSM will somehow mean that a workplace will no longer discriminate against it’s staff. Does this mean that there are presently workplaces discriminating against their staff and there is no ability for redress through current workplace laws, policies and practices? If… Read more »

Simon
Guest
Simon

I tend to agree with David’s observations on this article. Suggesting that somehow the Marriage Act is limiting/affecting (even subtly) the ability/responsibility of Workplaces to treat people equitably is a confusing argument given the raft of legislation that already enshrines equal protection under the law to all people wholly irrespective of relationship preference. Also, I’m pretty certain that same sex relationships are already considered legitimate and equal in terms of superannuation entitlements – in exactly the same way that all defacto relationships are recognised. Disparities have been gone for some time now. Would be helpful for the author to cite… Read more »

Tracey
Guest
Tracey

Companies are not limited by laws in terms of how they treat their employees. Particular legislation may not include specific persons/relationships or be deemed equitable, but a company is able to include such persons/relationships within their own policies. When benefits are provided by third parties there may be an issue (ie health insurance etc), but for benefits and entitlements provided by the employer, legal definitions need not be a limit.

Lynden
Guest
Lynden

I would also agree with David, Simon and Tracey on this issue. I don’t think this article addresses clearly how a change in laws relating to SSM will impact workplace practices. How are organisations “pushing it uphill” when the law already recognises de-facto same-sex relationships and provides legal protections alongside it? Nothing (including the law) prevents or prohibits organisations from going above and beyond minimums enshrined in law to promote inclusion and diversity. I think the link between legalising SSM and a positive change in workplace practices is perhaps a little tenuous.

More on HRM