Marriage equality is now a reality in 10 countries, as well as in seven American states.

The first country to open the institution of marriage to non-heterosexual couples was the Netherlands in 2001.

We now have the benefit of a decade’s experience to draw upon in understanding the outcomes of legislative reform.

Sydney has been fortunate over the past two weeks to have two international experts on marriage equality in town. Boris Dittrich is the LGBT Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch in New York, and, as a former Dutch MP, was responsible for the marriage equality and same-sex adoption bills in that country. Professor Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of
Massachusetts and research director at the UCLA Wiliams Institute, has studied the impact of marriage equality internationally more than anyone else.

Two trends are clear from their experience. First, Badgett’s research indicates that marriage equality has an overwhelmingly positive social and economic impact on those involved, and in the broader community. Socially, couples who marry report significantly greater levels of acceptance in their communities, stronger commitment in their relationships, and greater security for their children.

These findings directly counter the claims of those who oppose marriage equality on the basis that it will have a negative impact on families and children.

At an economic level, conservative estimates by Badgett indicate that if Australia allows same-sex couples to marry, it would contribute $161 million to the economy over the first three years.

Dittrich recalls a conversation he had with a group of 20-year-olds, who were too young to remember a time when discrimination in marriage was still law, and could not quite believe it had ever been so. That is our future.

The second trend is more sobering. Marriage equality may represent the end of the program of legislative reform for gay and lesbian people and their families (or close to it), but we cannot mistake this for the end of homophobia.

The Netherlands, often held up as a beacon of acceptance for sex, gender and sexual minorities, still faces serious issues of homophobia and transphobia, according to Dittrich.

Legislative equality does not mean social equality, and this is particularly true for minorities within the minority — the young, the elderly, people with disabilities, those living in rural areas or from certain multicultural or religious communities, and those who are sex and/or gender diverse.

As the marriage equality train rolls on, we need to start thinking now about what the next steps will be on the journey towards equality.


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