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All Canberrans can marry from today, but the long road to inclusion doesn't end here

January 09, 2018

The day after marriage equality became law, I attended my best mate's wedding to his wife; the first in Australia where the celebrant said the words marriage is a "union of two people" excluding all others.

It was a proud moment for the groom but also for me as his groomsman, to finally hear those words. And there was applause from friends and family.

Today, January 9, is the first day that most same-sex couples can get married after declaring the requisite 30-day notice of intention to marry, following the change in our marriage law.

As we wake up, living in an Australia with marriage equality, we can expect changes. After all, the ACT voted overwhelmingly for marriage equality for a reason.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Canberrans are now recognised simply as people. People with the same dignity and status as everyone else under law. People who have the legal right to marry, regardless of their sexuality or gender.

People who waited years, even decades, to have their commitment to one another recognised will have their relationships recognised. This probably means that, in most cases, these people have had a long time to think about their decision to marry – they're not rushing into it!

Couples won't need to go overseas to have their marriage recognised. They will marry happily here in Canberra, with their friends and family spending their money here on some pretty fabulous (and no doubt expensive) weddings.

LGBTIQ couples who are married will no longer need to prove their relationships. For too long, we have heard the heart-breaking difficulties that same-sex and other couples face in being recognised – whether it is as their partner's next of kin or otherwise. Today, their relationships are recognised.

For most Australians, the reform of civil marriage will have very little day-to-day impact, because they already can marry.

The debate on marriage equality will continue in relation to church canon law, and in other religious institutions where people in the LGBTIQ community are also pushing for marriage equality. That is matter for the church and church-goers.

No doubt some Canberrans who voted "no" in the postal survey will feel aggrieved. They should feel assured that, despite the red herrings thrown around in the debate, our democracy is not threatened, the underpinnings of the family institution have not been undone but rather strengthened, and there will not be a lost generation of children. There are already many children growing up happily and healthily with same-sex parents.

My federal Labor colleague, Andrew Leigh, recently pointed out in his book Battlers and Billionaires that opponents of same-sex marriage, such as Kevin Andrews, cite studies showing the greater propensity for married people to volunteer, vote and survive cancer as a justification for the continued importance of marriage. Research from Scandinavia and Massachusetts shows that marriage equality actually strengthened the institution of marriage in those jurisdictions by increasing in the long-term stability of marriage and permanently decreasing the overall divorce rate.

Leigh suggests these same benefits could flow on to those in the LGBTIQ community. Today, all people can share in the benefits of marriage.

However, the benefits of marriage equality are not just for the individual, but for society as a whole. We all benefit from an inclusive society. Australian evidence strongly supports the proposition that marriage equality is related to improved health outcomes – outcomes that we all pay for through our universal healthcare system.

I am very hopeful that marriage equality, in providing acceptance and recognition of same-sex marriage, will be a positive force for inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning people in our society. It is an important milestone for inclusion and acceptance. However, despite the benefits of marriage equality will bring, it will not in itself end discrimination against the LGBTIQ community. If only we could legislate away social discrimination as we can legal discrimination.

The high rates of mental illness and suicide won't end overnight, nor will the discrimination at work, nor bullying in schools. Roy Morgan polling shows that more than one in five Australians still believe homosexuality is immoral. When this manifests in bullying, it can have deadly consequences.

The marriage equality survey results show us there is more work to do to promote inclusion through respectful dialogue, especially with enclosed religious communities and recent non-Western immigrants.

Beyond marriage equality, there is a long way to go to improve understanding and acceptance of diversity and inclusion. This will become a greater focus for governments. In the ACT, our government has established the LGBTIQ Advisory Council to advise on the way forward.

All of this will be the last thing on the minds of LGBTIQ couples as they celebrate marriages today, but tomorrow the work towards true social equality will continue.

This article was originally published in The Canberra Times.