Fact check: Is Australia the only advanced English-speaking country without same-sex marriage?

Is Australia the only advanced English-speaking country without same-sex marriage?

Find out the answer Read below.

From mid-September, Australians will begin receiving survey forms for the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, which the Government has commissioned in place of a plebiscite.

A common claim made about same-sex marriage is that Australia lags behind the countries we like to compare ourselves to.

Back in 2015, after the successful referendum to bring in same-sex marriage in Ireland, then Australian Marriage Equality director Rodney Croome asserted that Australia was “the last developed English-speaking country not to allow same-sex couples to marry”.

And in September 2016, Greens MP Adam Bandt told Parliament that “we are now the only developed, English-speaking country to not have equal marriage laws”.

One of the latest to make the claim is Opposition frontbencher Andrew Leigh.

“We’re the last advanced English-speaking country not to allow same-sex marriage,” Mr Leigh told Sky News.

Mr Leigh is not the first or last to make a similar claim. But what are the facts? RMIT ABC Fact Check finds out.

The verdict

Mr Leigh’s claim is overstated.

Most of the countries that Australia shares political, economic and social links with have legalised same-sex marriage.

However, we are not the only “advanced English-speaking country” that has failed to do so.

Singapore, an advanced English-speaking country with a population of almost 6 million people, has not even decriminalised sexual acts between two men, let alone legalised same-sex marriage.

And not all parts of the United Kingdom have same-sex marriage — it is still not legal in Northern Ireland.

Basis for comparison

Mr Leigh refers to a set of countries that are “advanced” and “English-speaking”.

Fact Check has assessed “English-speaking” countries as those with English as an official language.

This will necessarily include countries that have multiple official languages — such as Singapore, South Africa and Canada — and those where English is the language of government and the law but not the most widely spoken in everyday life.

There are at least 70 countries or self-governing/semi-autonomous entities (such as Hong Kong) where English is an official language.

These range from small places such as the Falkland Islands (population of around 2,900 people) to India (more than 1 billion people, where English remains an official language “for official purposes of the Union and for use in Parliament”).

And what is an advanced country? Mr Leigh’s office told Fact Check that he used “advanced” as another word for “developed”.

Unfortunately, there is no settled definition of what a “developed” country is.

Fact Check has considered several metrics:

• The International Monetary Fund’s list of 39 “advanced” economies.The list includes a number of economies that are not sovereign nations including Hong Kong, Macau and Puerto Rico. Only ten of these economies are English-speaking.

• The 35 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD. Six of these countries are English-speaking.

• The 51 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index said to have “very high human development”. Nine of these countries are English-speaking.

In short, Fact Check has found there to be 10 countries or territories that are advanced (on at least one of the metrics) and have English as an official language.

The results

Out of the ten “advanced” countries or territories with English as an official language, six have legalised same-sex marriage throughout the country. One — the United Kingdom — has legalised same-sex marriage in most of the country.

English-speaking

economy/country

IMF

Advanced economies

OECD Members

HDI – Very High

Human Development

Same-sex marriage
Australia Yes Yes Yes No
Canada Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hong Kong SAR Yes No Yes No
Ireland Yes Yes Yes Yes
Malta Yes No Yes Yes
New Zealand Yes Yes Yes Yes
Puerto Rico Yes No No Yes
Singapore Yes No Yes No
United Kingdom Yes Yes Yes Partially
United States Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sources: International Monetary Fund; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; United Nations Human Development Index; Official documents

Same-sex marriage is not legal anywhere in Singapore or Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, so on its own cannot be considered a “country”, though same-sex marriage is not legal in mainland China either.

Singapore has not legalised same-sex marriage, and in fact homosexual acts are still illegal in that country.

The situation in the United Kingdom is more difficult to characterise.

The UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the different countries/regions can make their own laws in some areas.

Same-sex marriage is legal in England, Scotland and Wales, but is not legal in Northern Ireland.

This means that same-sex marriages cannot take place in Northern Ireland and are recognised as civil partnerships rather than marriages in that territory.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Department of Finance told Fact Check:

“The law of Northern Ireland does not allow for same-sex marriage, but it does allow for same-sex civil partnerships, which confer similar rights and responsibilities; same-sex marriages that are conducted in England, Wales or Scotland are recognised as civil partnerships under the law of Northern Ireland.

Same-sex relationships from other jurisdictions may be recognised as civil partnerships in Northern Ireland…

On 17 August 2017 the High Court in Northern Ireland ruled that there is no obligation to introduce same-sex marriage.”

British citizens are able marry their same-sex partner in many British diplomatic posts overseas, including in Australia.

The marriages are valid as if they had taken place in the relevant part of the United Kingdom (as elected by the applicant).

Consular marriages cannot be conducted if “Northern Ireland” is elected, but there is nothing stopping a person from nominating England, Scotland or Wales even if they come from Northern Ireland.

Some of the British islands near the United Kingdom — such as the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, Alderney and Herm) and the Isle of Man — are not part of the UK and in fact are “crown dependencies” with their own legal systems.

Same-sex marriage is legal in the Isle of Man and most of the territory governed by Guernsey, but not the most populous island Jersey.

Australia is clearly towards the back of the (English-speaking, advanced country) pack when it comes to legalising same-sex marriage, but it is not alone.

Last English-speaking democracy?

Others have made claims around Australia being the last English-speaking democracy without same-sex marriage.

Again, this is an exaggeration.

Fact Check considered at the The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, which lists countries on a spectrum from full democracy to authoritarian.

Fact Check also took into account the annual Freedom in the World report, published by the US based Freedom House, which rates countries not free, partially free and free.

Out of the English-speaking countries listed as “full” or “flawed” democracies or “free” or “partially free”, only seven have legalised same-sex marriage.

A narrower claim was made in an August 14 tweet from the Sydney Mardi Gras, which stated there is same-sex marriage in “Every major English-speaking democracy EXCEPT Australia”.

x

The accuracy of that statement depends on the definition of “major”.

But given the list of democratic English-speaking countries without same-sex marriage includes Singapore (with a population greater than New Zealand or Ireland) and India (with a population of over a billion people), it again goes too far.

All of these comparisons demonstrate that while Australia may be behind those countries that are culturally and economically similar to Australia, there are many English-speaking countries that have not legalised same-sex marriage, many of which can be fairly called “democracies”.

Broader claim, same result

Some politicians and campaigners have gone beyond Mr Leigh’s formulation to claim that Australia is the only English-speaking country that has not legalised same-sex marriage.

Andrew Hastie, Liberal MP from Western Australia and a known opponent of same-sex marriage, told the Parliament on October 13, 2016:

“It is true that Australia is the last English-speaking country in the world to redefine marriage.

We can learn from international experience, and I dare say that we need to appreciate the consequences.”

A few days later, Matt Keogh, a Labor MP also from Western Australia, similarly told the Parliament “we are the last English-speaking nation to make this change”.

When the Senate considered same-sex marriage in early 2017, the organisation Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) stated in a submission:

“It is time to recognise that we are the last English-speaking country that still discriminates against same-sex-attracted couples.”

More recently Professor Kerryn Phelps, Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney, told a forum on August 3, 2017:

“So many Australians are saying, ‘hang on, this is really an issue, we’re the only remaining English-speaking country without marriage equality.”

These claims are inaccurate.

Fact Check has found that out of 70 countries and self-governing areas that have English as an official language, only fourteen have legalised same-sex marriage.

These are Bermuda, Canada, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man, Malta, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, parts of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, South Africa, the United States and most of the United Kingdom.

Sources

Date-stamped: 2017, Aug 25. | Time-stamped: Posted Friday at 04:52 | Article Link:  abc.net.au | Article Title: Fact check: Is Australia the only advanced English-speaking country without same-sex marriage?
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