Updated 12 December 2013
Since August 2004, same-sex marriage has been banned under an amended federal law Marriage Act 1961 (Amendment) Act 2004 so that neither a foreign same-sex marriage can be recognized, nor a same-sex marriage performed in the Commonwealth. This effectively banned same-sex marriage in Australia. The law, which prior to 2004 had not defined marriage specifically, appropriated marriage as the "voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others." In 1874 under the Hyde vs. Hyde case marriage was defined in the common law as a "voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others." Neither Civil partnerships nor civil unions are recognized by the Commonwealth Government. The Federal Opposition, namely the Australian Labor Party under the leadership of Mark Latham, joined with the Government to support the ban, amid strong objection from the Australian Democrats and The Greens. It was passed on 13 August 2004 as effective from the day of assent. In June 2009, polling showed that 60 percent of Australians support same-gender marriage (Galaxy).
The states and territories of New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory have a "registered partnership" system that is available for all couples. These state-level registered relationships are recognized on both the state and Commonwealth Government levels. Even some councils such as Sydney, Melbourne and Yarra provide a relationship register for symbolic recognition, but provide no legal recognition. However, all Government levels of Australia have some form of "de-facto status recognition" or "common-law marriage" that recognizes both same sex and opposite sex couples, called "unregistered co-habitation".
Surviving partners from same-sex couples are able to claim tax-free pension benefits from deceased partners. Same-sex partners of members of the Australian Defense Force are granted the same benefits as spouses of married soldiers. Same-sex couples can sponsor their partners for immigration purposes.
On 23 August 2012 the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Legislative Assembly passed a bill to introduce legally binding ceremonies for same-sex couples. Same-sex couples in the ACT have been able to register their civil partnership since 2008. The new bill will replace the Civil Partnerships Act 2008 and fully restore the role of ceremonies and celebrants in civil unions.
The Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013 was passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly on 22 October 2013 and signed on 7 November 2013. Same-sex marriages began in the ACT on 7 December 2013. However, on 11 December 2013 Australia's High Court struck down the landmark law and annulled the same-sex marriages that had taken place.
New Zealand's Parliament passed the Marriage (Equality) Amendment Bill on 17 April 2013. Same-sex marriages began 19 August 2013 following a 4 month administrative delay.