Chronology of same-sex marriage bills introduced into the federal parliament

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bills-in-parliamentThe introduction of legislation on same-sex marriage has continued in the current (45th) Parliament. Since September 2016 four same-sex marriage bills have been introduced into the federal parliament, while six bills were introduced into the previous (44th) Parliament.

Since the 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) which inserted the current definition of marriage, 22 bills dealing with same-sex marriage or the recognition of overseas same-sex marriages have been introduced into the federal Parliament. Four bills have come to a vote: three in the Senate (in 2010, 2012 and 2013), and one in the House of Representatives (in 2012). These bills were all defeated at the second reading stage; consequently no bill has been debated by the second chamber. To date, the bills have been introduced by members of parliament representing the Australian Democrats, Australian Greens, Australian Labor Party, Liberal Democratic Party, Liberal Party of Australia and by Independents.

A bill introduced into the House of Representatives in August 2015 was the first cross-party same-sex marriage bill introduced into the Parliament.

This Quick Guide provides a chronological list of bills relating to marriage equality introduced into the federal parliament, including bills restored to the Notice Paper or reintroduced in a later parliament. The information on each bill includes:

  • whether or not a conscience vote was granted by the major parties (Note: Australian Greens policy is to support marriage equality, and the Australian Democrats had previously adopted a similar policy)
  • links to each bill homepage and, where available, the bills digest and committee reports
  • links to parliamentary speeches and answers to parliamentary questions
  • type of bill: government or private
  • changes in party policy
  • comments by party leaders and other members of parliament where relevant
  • status of the bill: current, defeated or lapsed and
  • results of divisions in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The list also includes one government bill: the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 which inserted the definition of marriage as the ‘union between a man and a woman’.

The list does not include the following plebiscite bills (in which no party was granted a conscience vote):

  • the Marriage Equality Plebiscite Bill 2015 was introduced in the Senate on 19 August 2015. The previous week, the leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Richard Di Natale, had announced that the Greens and other members of the Senate crossbench would ‘put forward a bill to ensure a fair question on marriage equality is put to the people no later than the next election’. The Bill lapsed at the prorogation of the 44th Parliament.
  • the Plebiscite (Same-Sex) Marriage) Bill 2016 was introduced by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in the House of Representatives on 14 September 2016. The Bill fulfilled a Liberal Party election promise and sought to establish the legislative framework for a compulsory, in-person vote in a national plebiscite that would ask Australians ‘Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?’. The Bill passed the lower House on 20 October 2016 but was defeated at the second reading stage in the Senate on 7 November 2016.

Additional information on conscience votes and same-sex marriage is available in the Parliamentary Library publications:Conscience votes on same-sex marriage legislation (D McKeown and R Lundie, 2011), Same-sex marriage (M Neilsen, 2012), Same-sex marriage brief (M Neilsen, 2013), Same-sex marriage: issues for the 44th Parliament (M Neilsen, 2015), Same-sex marriage: key issues for the 45th Parliament (M Neilsen, 2016) and various bills digests (links included in the following table).

Please note the following abbreviations: 2R (second reading), 3R (third reading), HoR (House of Representatives), Australian Democrats (AD), Australian Greens (AG), Australian Labor Party (ALP), Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Liberal Party of Australia (LIB) and Independent (IND).


Marriage Bill 1961

The Marriage Bill 1961 was first introduced into the House of Representatives on 19 May 1960 by Attorney-General Sir Garfield Barwick (LIB, NSW) as the Marriage Bill 1960. The Bill sought to introduce uniform marriage laws across Australia. In his second reading speech on 19 May 1960 Barwick noted that:

 … it will be observed that there is no attempt to define marriage in this bill. None of the marriage laws to which I have referred contains any such definition.

The second reading debate was postponed to allow for consultations with the States and other interested organisations over the proposed administrative arrangements. On 18 August 1960 the Bill passed the second reading stage in the House of Representatives without a division. On 8 September 1960 Barwick announced that various adjustments to the Bill were required. He proposed circulating amendments, withdrawing the Bill at the committee stage and replacing it with a new Bill incorporating the amendments. The Bill lapsed before the committee stage because the second session of the Parliament was closed on 9 December 1960.

On 21 March 1961 Barwick reintroduced the Bill (Marriage Bill 1961) stating that it incorporated:

… the amendments which would have been dealt with in committee, together with the original bill, had it been found possible to proceed with the committee stage. As I have said, that was not found possible and the 1960 bill has now lapsed.

In the same speech he also said:

Because of the similarity between the Marriage Bill 1960 and the present bill, and because of the very full second-reading debate in this House last year, the present bill will go to the committee stage without a second-reading debate.

Both major parties (ALP and LIB) were granted a conscience vote on the Bill. On 22 March 1961 the Bill passed the second and third reading stages in the House of Representatives without divisions.

The Bill was introduced into the Senate on 23 March 1961 and passed the second reading stage on 18 April 1961 without division. On the same day, during the committee stage, Senator George Hannan (LIB, Vic.) sought to insert a definition of marriage as ‘the voluntary union of one man with one woman for life to the exclusion of all others’ but this was defeated 40–8. The Bill passed the third reading stage without division.

Complete list of 22 same-sex marriage bills introduced to Parliament

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