On 7 December 2017, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 was passed through Federal Parliament. It changed the definition of Marriage under the Marriage Act 1961 from a union of ‘a man and a woman’ to a union of ‘2 people’. This change came into effect on 9 December 2017, allowing same sex couples to marry in Australia (subject to some other conditions, see https://www.ag.gov.au/FamiliesAndMarriage/Marriage/Pages/Getting-married.aspx).
The Migration Act 1958 (Cth) has also changed the definition of Spouse in line with changes to the Marriage Act, to allow for a spouse to be of the same or different sex.
A person in a relationship with an Australian citizen, permanent resident or an eligible New Zealander can apply for an onshore partner visa (subclass 820/801) or offshore partner visa (subclass 309/100), or a prospective marriage visa (subclass 300, if you are outside of Australia). You can find more information on partner visas here: http://www.puttlegal.com.au/partner-visas/.
Previously same sex couples could only apply for a partner visa on the basis that they could demonstrate they had been in a de facto relationship for at least 12 months (rather than a spousal relationship). Now, same sex couples who are married can circumvent this 12-month de facto requirement. There are still substantial requirements as to proving a relationship, but same sex couples can now marry to demonstrate their commitment.
Further same sex couples with plans to marry in Australia can now apply for a prospective marriage visa. It may be the case that a couple is in a genuine relationship and want to get married and set up a life in Australia, but the sponsor is in Australia and applicant is overseas (so they may not meet the criteria of a de facto relationship as required for a partner visa). It is a condition of the prospective marriage visa that the applicant travels to Australia and marries their partner within 9 months. They are then eligible to apply for a partner visa onshore.
Putt Legal looks forward to assisting same sex couples looking to marry in Australia, with a prospective marriage visa application, and has experience with lodging same sex partner visa applications (both onshore and offshore), and appealing refusals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.