C. was a citizen of Australia and the United Kingdom who lived with A. as a couple in the State of Victoria and then Queensland. They agreed to have a baby and that C. would be the birth mother. They traveled to Canada and got married and then separated shortly after the marriage. C. is the sole caregiver of the baby and no longer knows of the whereabouts of A. C. wanted to formally dissolve her Canadian legal marriage so that she could remarry or enter a civil partnership in the future. She also wanted to ensure she was not held responsible for A.’s debts. Finally, when traveling abroad, she did not want A. to be deemed her legal spouse in certain countries where the marriage might be recognized and A deemed next of kin. In Queensland, in order to obtain a file a divorce application to dissolve a marriage, a marital relationship must be legally recognized as a marriage. Section 5(1) of the Marriage Act of 1961, which provided the relevant definition of marriage, define this term to mean “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” Further, Section 88EA of the Act provided that, “a union solemnized in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man, or 9b) a woman and another woman, must not be recognized as a marriage in Australia.” C. did not file for divorce in Australia because of the laws, nor did she apply in Canada or the United Kingdom because both had residency requirements for divorce. C. filed her claim with the Committee claiming that the denial under Australian law of access to divorce proceedings for same-sex couples who have validly married abroad and the consequential denial of court-based relief in the form of a court order amounts to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, contrary to article 1491), ready together with article 291) (equal access to courts and tribunals), and article 26 (equality before the law) of the Covenant. The Committee determined that C. was precluded from accessing divorce proceedings in Australia because her same-sex marriage was not recognized under sections 5(1) and 88EA of the Marriage Act of Australia, whereas couples in specific opposite-sex marriages not recognized in Australia, such as polygamous couples, do have access to divorce. This was found to constitute differential treatment. Australia stated they made a reasonable exception for polygamous marriages to enable parties to such marriages access to the assistance, relief and help provided by the family law courts in relation to (but not limited to) children’s matters, property matters, maintenance matters or divorce. The Committee determined that Australia did not explain why this stated reason does not apply equally to unrecognized foreign same-sex marriages. In the absence of more convincing explanations from Australia, the Committee found that the differentiation of treatment based on sexual orientation to which C. was subjected regarding access to divorce proceedings was not based on reasonable and objective criteria and therefore constitutes discrimination under article 26 of the Covenant. Under article 2(3) of the Covenant, the Committee stated that Australia was under an obligation to provide C. with an effective remedy by providing full reparation for the discrimination suffered through lack of access to divorce proceedings. Australia also was obligated to take steps to prevent similar violations in the future and to review its laws in accordance with the Committee’s views, and to provide the Committee information about the measures taken to give effect to the Committee’s views within 180 days.
C. v. Australia