LCC Working Paper Series: 2017-20


Francisco Perales and Alice Campbell


Abundant international and Australian evidence demonstrates that non-heterosexual people remain subjected to discrimination and stigmatization stemming from negative social attitudes, and that these processes have important negative repercussions on their life outcomes. We use longitudinal population-level data from the HILDA Survey to examine the degree of support for equal rights for same-sex couples in Australia between 2005 and 2015. Our results show a high degree of societal-level backing for the notion that same-sex couples should have equal rights to heterosexual couples. In 2015, 66% of the Australian population held that view. The data also provides evidence of overwhelming social change, as just 40% of the Australian population expressed support in 2005. These societal changes cannot be attributed to compositional changes in the population characteristics that we include in our models, suggesting that they may be a product of ‘true’ cultural change.

While a vast majority of the 2015 Australian population supported equal rights for same-sex couples, there was still a non-negligible fraction which did not (about 34%). This poses the question of whether or not differences in support rates are patterned by socio-demographic characteristics. Our analyses reveal that this is the case: support rates were lower amongst individuals who were male, religious, heterosexual, aged 40 years or over, not holding a University degree, in the bottom income quartile, a migrant from a non-English speaking background, and living in a regional or remote location.

Our findings have significant implications for policy and practice. First, they are helpful in contextualising the results of the 2017 ABS postal survey on marriage equality by identifying the characteristics of people who are likely to support and oppose same-sex marriage. Second, the results of the ABS postal survey on marriage equality (62% of ‘Yes’ votes vs. 38% of ‘No’ votes) are very similar to those we predicted using the HILDA Survey (66% of ‘Yes’ votes vs. 34% of ‘No’ votes). This highlights the importance and external validity of large population studies, such as the HILDA Survey, to be used as thermometers for public opinion. Altogether, the results of both the ABS Survey and our HILDA Survey analyses evidence that there is a clear misalignment between public attitudes and current legislation. In keeping with the democratic principle that national legislation and public policies should reflect the public sentiment, they suggest that the Australian law requires amendments to become more inclusive and respectful of individuals in same-sex couples. In fact, if the observed social trends in the degree of support continue over the next few years, the fraction of the population which will actively oppose this notion is likely to become negligible.


November 22, 2017