Married Persons (Separate Legal Status) Bill

Second Reading

I indicate my appreciation to the opposition for an indication of their support. In the year that we celebrate 125 years of women having the right to vote and also, historically, in this parliament having had the right to stand for parliament, it is particularly important that I make some mention of the significance of what we are doing in this legislation.

Unlike the previous bill, as important as it was in changing the descriptor of persons, this bill actually rids, for all purposes, the circumstance where to be married changed a woman's status in many different ways. It is certainly the case that the women of this colony 125 years ago were in a circumstance where if they were single they were under the control of their father, particularly in relation to property matters, and if they married they were under the control of their husband. This may seem shockingly inappropriate for today's young women, but that was the reality 125 years ago.

Whilst South Australia has been pioneering in many areas of reform in respect of women, not just the right to vote and the right to stand for parliament but, as is reflected in the tapestries here in this chamber, we were pioneering in 1949 in giving women rights in respect of the guardianship of infants—this was, again, quite historical legislation—and the legislation to allow for arbitration processes in relation to industrial matters. These were pioneering pieces of reform because women were inextricably restricted in their own rights, and we ought not forget that, especially in this year.

So, to have a clause that specifically now says that married persons have a separate legal status to one another in all circumstances—that is, to give them a legal capacity as if they were not married—is quite monumental, and we need to appreciate the significance of that. For all purposes, it provides that married persons are entitled to criminal and civil redress in respect of property. Furthermore, a married person has no authority to act as agent for a spouse. Also importantly, it provides for a married person not being liable for the debts incurred by their spouse prior to entering into their marriage.

Finally, it provides that, where a married person provides money to their spouse for the purpose of paying joint household expenses, anything purchased with that money or any money not spent will be taken to be the joint property of the person and the person's spouse, unless an agreement between the person and spouse states otherwise. These are golden rules of equality and golden rules of recognition. In this legislation, we are making sure that we protect that.

It is important that the institution of marriage—now in a broader definition by its application under the federal Marriage Act—is a status acquired by the parties at their behest. That is, they want to be recognised as a couple under the Marriage Act and they want that status to be recognised for the purposes of the public to respect that relationship. That is important to them and they voluntarily enter into that for that purpose.

I went to a wedding recently—in fact, it involved a family member of the Minister for Primary Industries—and it was interesting to hear the changes in the reading of the obligations in relation to compliance with the Marriage Act and the definition of 'marriage'. It was the first time I had actually heard this read out at a marriage ceremony since the passage of the commonwealth legislation, which now reflects the modern definition.

Having moved from 'the union between a man and a woman voluntarily entered into for life', it is now, of course 'two persons' with the similar descriptor. It brought a smile to my face to think of the contemporary advance we have made in this regard. I also place on the record that it was due to the significant event in the commonwealth parliament, under prime minister Turnbull, that we have made this advance.

It is fair to say that South Australia has had quite a significant number of same-sex marriages recognised since that time. We have, of course, recently passed surrogacy laws that allow for the safe and reliable application of surrogacy rules for all couples, including same-sex couples, and individuals. I think we are passing momentous legislation here today. Our children, whether they are boys or girls, or whether they change their gender during their lifetime and gain legal recognition, will be treated equally and, as far as the law is concerned, will not be diminished within marriage.

I again thank the opposition for their indication of support. I note that the opposition have acknowledged consultation on this matter, but I am happy to follow up any other issues in committee, should there be any.

Bill read a second time.