United: Tony Briffa and Manja Sommeling.Hundreds of Australian same-sex-couples have married in New Zealand since marriage equality laws came into effect a year ago.
In the first 12 months, 926 same-sex couples have tied the knot in New Zealand, according to the New Zealand registry of marriages. Of those, 237 weddings – nearly one in four – involved Australian residents.
As New Zealand commemorated the first anniversary of its marriage equality laws last week, a Senate inquiry heard how thousands of same-sex couples have married overseas but still lack recognition under federal law.
Ten years ago, the Howard government amended the Marriage Act to prohibit same-sex marriages overseas being recognised in Australia. According to the most recent census, 1338 same-sex couples have married overseas.
Australians for Marriage Equality director Rodney Croome said many Australians would prefer to marry at home but could not wait any longer. ”It’s an indictment on Australia that our citizens have to travel to another country to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said.
Former Hobsons Bay mayor Tony Briffa will celebrate her first wedding anniversary with school teacher Manja Sommeling, 47, next month but her marriage remains in legal limbo.
”I proposed on Valentine’s Day last year,” she said. ”I got down on one knee in front of the house we had just bought and in which we now live.”
While the Altona Meadows couple had planned to marry in Canada, when New Zealand passed its marriage equality laws they opted for Dunedin instead. Being born both male and female, Ms Briffa’s marriage cannot be recognised under Australian law. The 44-year-old told the inquiry the proposed bill to recognise overseas same-sex marriages still excluded intersex people. Ms Briffa suggested the definition of marriage should remove all mention of gender.
Carnegie couple Michael Barnett, 45, and his husband Gregory Storer, 51, had been together for five years when they tied the knot in New Zealand’s Queenstown. Mr Barnett said friends and family treated the couple as married – regardless of the Australian law.
The Australian Family Association said recognising overseas same-sex marriages would create an inconsistency in the Marriage Act, and would add pressure to recognise same-sex marriage broadly.
The inquiry into formal recognition of overseas marriages is expected to report to the Federal Parliament on September 3.
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