‘What marriage law change?’ Same-sex couples on registries’ do-later backlog

By Harley Dennett

Friday December 8, 2017

Australians could hardly have missed that same-sex couples could soon marry. But for most Births, Deaths and Marriages registries it’s yet another example of bureaucratic ‘computer says no’.

New South Wales was alone this week in allowing same-sex couples to preemptively notify their intent to marry. The bill received royal assent this morning, after a campaign lasting more than 13 years, so it’s no shock that many wanted to do this.

While the NSW BDM can’t process those notices before the Commonwealth formally gives advice of the change in law — expected shortly — it was a sign of a state agency putting the customer experience first.

The NSW registry caters to around 14% of the civil marriage market (which is 68% of all marriages in the state), with 3740 registry weddings from a total of 26,717 civil marriages in NSW last year.

“We do not yet have an indication of how many same-sex couples are interested in a Registry wedding, but we will cater to demand.”

“The NSW Registry Offices in Sydney and Parramatta will be open exceptionally on Saturday 9 December from 9am to 3pm to interview any couples wishing to get married and lodge the revised Notice of Intended Marriage form. No other types of applications or business will take place on that day, except wedding ceremonies already booked.”

‘Don’t contact us’

Registries of Victoria and Western Australia put up advice for same-sex couples in anticipation of the changes. That advice was wait, don’t contact us, if you must talk to someone, talk to the Commonwealth’s Attorney General’s Department. The AGD switchboard number was helpfully provided.

In the ACT you can now buy a rainbow numberplate for your car (pictured) matching the new rainbow roundabout in Braddon. But if you’re a same-sex couple in Canberra the latest advice for you is about the territory government’s High Court bid failing in 2013, quoting an attorney general who quit more than a year ago.

Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Northern Territory registries still have nothing to say to same-sex couples on marriage.

Several jurisdictions offer a kind of relationship register that is not marriage and is usually not recognised in other jurisdictions. The Tasmanian one is particularly interesting to lawyers and legal academics in that it formally creates a relationship (in areas that recognise the state law) instead of registering an existing relationship. All of them, however, are old news and what people want to know about today is how to take advantage of the marriage law change.

Those couples who wed overseas will also have their marriages recognised from midnight tonight. At time of writing no agency, federal or state, has this information available online.

The Mandarin called BDM registers to see if their call centres had updated information. They do not.

Potentially 47,000 couples

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has made it easy for registries to anticipate any uptick in workload: “We counted approximately 47,000 same-sex couples in 2016 – up from 33,000 in 2011 (a 42% increase) and 26,000 in 2006 (an 81% increase),” the ABS said in the release of 2016 Census data earlier this year.

The Census data isn’t perfect. Some same-sex couples, especially older ones, are reluctant to reveal themselves to government after all these years of fearing what could happen. On the other hand, if a couple isn’t willing to tell the ABS about themselves, they probably won’t be lining up for a marriage certificate.

Male same-sex couple Female same-sex couple Total
New South Wales 9,265 7,494 16,759
Victoria 6,587 6,071 12,657
Queensland 3,908 4,485 8,386
South Australia 1,116 1,521 2,642
Western Australia 1,752 2,134 3,885
Tasmania 383 453 838
Northern Territory 177 214 387
Australian Capital Territory 554 655 1,209
Other Territories 0 4 4
Total 23,743 23,031 46,774

Updated at 2pm with more details from NSW.

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