A timeline of events related to the Australian campaign for marriage equality along with reflection and analysis related to Australian, Irish and US campaigns.
On November 15, 2017, rainbow-clad crowds gathered in cities and towns across Australia to watch together as the results of the historic same-sex marriage survey were announced, live. At Prince Alfred Park in Sydney, spokespeople from the Marriage Equality campaign stood on a large stage and cheered and hugged when the news broke that nearly 62% of respondents had voted “Yes”… That triumphant outcome was the result of at least thirteen years of advocacy for the Marriage Equality campaign, which started as a small volunteer-led organization in 2004 in response to the Marriage Amendment Act defining marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.” At that point, only 38% of Australians believed in a more inclusive definition of marriage. – The Marriage Equality campaign inspired Australians to get out the vote and say “Yes”
This timeline focuses on developments in Australia but includes references to some international events that were influential. Australia was a late adopter of marriage equality compared to many other countries. This timeline doesn’t include the many develops internationally around civil partnerships and marriage equality legislation, or even all of the developments within Australia around relationship recognition, but is provided to give an introductory overview.
- 2000 – The Netherlands became the first country to legalise same sex marriage.
- 2003 – Same sex marriage became legal in the province of Ontario in Canada.
- 2004 – Same sex marriage became legal in the state of Massachusetts in the USA.
- 2004 – Two Australian same sex couples attempted to have their Canadian marriages recognised in Australia.
- 2004 – The Australian Marriage Act of 1961 was amended to exclude same-sex couples. The Marriage Amendment Act defined marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.”
- 2004 – A Newspoll survey found 38% of Australians supported same-sex marriage, 44% opposed it, and 18% were undecided.
- 2004 – The Marriage Equality Campaign was started in Australia by a volunteer-led organisation.
- 2004 – The first public Marriage Equality rally was held in Sydney, jointly organised with Community Action Against Homophobia, to protest the Howard Government’s amendments to the Marriage Act.
- 2004 – Tasmania allows same-sex couples to register domestic partnerships.
- 2006 – The ACT established Australia’s first civil unions scheme, only to have it overturned by the Federal Government in 2013.
- 2010 – The Tasmanian Parliament unanimously passed legislation to recognise same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions as registered partnerships.
- 2012 – A Tasmania bill to legalise state level same-sex marriages was defeated in the Upper House.
- 2012 – US President Barack Obama declared his public support for marriage equality
- 2013 – The ACT passed the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013. The Commonwealth Government challenged it in the High Court where it was declared invalid.
- 2015 – Ireland held a referendum on marriage equality, becoming the first country in the world to introduce marriage equality by a vote of the people.
- 2015 – 19 countries had voted for same-sex marriage and legislation was on the agenda around the globe.
- 2016 – Australian Marriage Equality and Australians for Equality created the Equality Campaign.
- 2017, August – The Federal Government’s plans for a formal plebiscite were rejected by the Parliament. A non-compulsory postal survey was announced instead.
- 2017, November 15 – 62% of respondents voted “Yes” on the same-sex marriage survey.
- 2017, November – Marriage Amendment Act had passed in the Senate
- 2017, December 7 – Marriage Amendment Act passed in the House of Representatives, and it came into effect on December 9, 2017. The new definition: ‘Marriage means the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’.
- 2018 – 6,538 same sex marriages were registered.
- 2018 – An Essential poll found 65% of Australians supported same-sex marriage, 26% oppose it, and 9% were undecided.
Reflections & Analysis
- What we can learn from the Marriage Equality Campaign
An array of resources collated about the marriage equality campaign across the world including lessons learned about messaging and framing.
- Australia said Yes (Campaign wrap up) – Equality Campaign
In addition to this wrap up video visit the site for statistics, quotes and key steps in the Yes Campaign.
- Australia Says Yes – Documentary – Watch Trailer
Australia Says Yes is an independent documentary that captures some of the campaigns for marriage equality in Australia. It aired on SBS on the one year anniversary of the historic decision. Packed with drama, high emotions and cliffhanger moments, Australia Says Yes shared some of the intimate and personal histories of five decades of struggle and perseverance that propelled Australia to finally say YES to marriage equality. Watch on DocPlay
- Book: Yes, Yes, Yes: Australia’s Journey to Marriage Equality, Alex Greenwich and Shirleene Robinson, 2018, NewSouth Books
“Yes Yes Yes, written by two advocates intimately involved in the struggle for marriage equality, reveals the untold story of how a grassroots movement won hearts and minds and transformed a country… It is based on personal memories and more than forty interviews with key figures and everyday advocates from across Australia. It covers the movement’s origins in 2004, when the Marriage Act of 1961 was amended to exclude same-sex couples, through to the unsuccessful High Court challenge, a public vote in 2017 and the Parliamentary aftermath.” – from Publisher’s website
- Book: How Powerful we are: Behind the scenes with one of Australia’s leading activists, Sally Rugg, 2019, Hachette
- The Marriage Equality campaign inspired Australians to get out the vote and say “Yes”, Jane St John, Nationbuilder
- The Truth about Australia’s Marriage Equality Campaign, Peter Furness, 19.12.2021, Star Observer
- Social Media and Marriage Equality in Australia: The Media Roles in the Public Sphere and the Agenda-Setting, Yuhanyin Ma, 2020
- ChangeMakers Podcast: Marriage Equality, Series 2 Stories, #15, 2018, Changemakers
The first strategy was storytelling. Several brave LGBTI couples began talking publicly about their desire to be married. The second strategy was good old fashioned organising. Australian Marriage Equality started encouraging people all across the country to set up local groups to begin a local conversation about marriage equality. – ChangeMakers podcast
- The Path to Marriage Equality In Ireland: A Case Study, Susan Parker, 2017, The Atlantic Philanthropies
- Good Practice Guide on Values Based Campaigning for Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Partnerships Written by: Dr Gráinne Healy, Council of Europe
- Ireland Says Yes: The Inside Story of How the Vote for Marriage Equality Was Won, Gráinne Healy, Brian Sheehan & Noel Whelan, 2015, Irish Academic Press
- Case Study: Yes Equality – Using Digital and Social Media to help secure a Yes Vote, ForAChange
For the referendum campaign to succeed, it was critical to establish and maintain a positive tone throughout and to manage control of the message, particularly online. Creating a campaign that people wanted to be a part of was vital in reaching the “movable middle”, those who had yet to make up their mind – a key target audience. Social media would be central to this and would mean using strategies and tactics not seen before in Irish politics. – ForAChange
- Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America, Nathaniel Frank, 2017, Harvard University Press
- The Improbable Victory of Marriage Equality: The successful push to win marriage equality was the product of a strategic legal campaign and an emerging social movement, John. F. Kowl, 2015, Brennan Center
- The Engagement: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage, Sasha Issenberg, 2021, Pantheon (Book)
- Varieties of Constitutional Experience: Democracy and the Marriage Equality Campaign, Nan D. Hunter, 2017, 64 UCLA L. Rev. 1662
- The Marriage Plot: Inside This Year’s Epic Campaign for Gay Equality: How activists rewrote the political playbook, reversed decades of defeat, and finally won over voters, Molly Ball, 2012, The Atlantic
- What we can learn from the LGBTQ movement’s 50 years of achievement, George Lakey
- “Love is Love” and Other Stories: The Role of Narrative in Winning the Freedom To Marry, Evan Wolfson, 2020, The Forge
For years, I was told the campaign was too ambitious, too transformational, too difficult, too unrealistic, and then, at the same time, there’s always been a thread of criticism that marriage equality is too conservative, too assimilationist, too reifying of existing structures, and so on. There is a book called This Is An Uprising by Paul and Mark Engler, and they talk about two models of change: transformational change and transactional change. They hold up the freedom to marry as an example of transformational change because advocates set a goal that seemed unattainable, out of reach —and figured out how to get there — as opposed to setting a goal according to what was immediately attainable and simply going for that. So these scholars see freedom to marry as transformational change, as do I. – Evan Wolfson
- Marriage Equality: Global Comparisons: A growing number of countries are legalizing same-sex marriage amid a steady advance in rights for LGBTQ+ people, but opposition remains strong in many countries, 2021, Council on Foreign Relations
- Same-Sex Marriage Around the World, Pew Research Center