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.