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Limebite 10/23

It’s about the ‘I do’, not the ‘who’ – the protected attribute of relationship status

Jacob Redden
Jacob Redden, Gabrielle Burford


A recent decision of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) has confirmed that the protection against discrimination on the basis of ‘relationship status’ under Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) (Act) does not extend to unfavourable treatment with the identity of someone’s relationship partner.

In the case of Bond v State of Queensland (Department of Justice and Attorney General) & Ors [2023] QIRC 148, the complainant alleged that her managers and employer contravened the Act by treating her less favourably because she was married to a colleague. The complainant alleged that she was subject to discrimination because of who her husband was.

Relationship status is a protected attribute under section 7 of the Act, and is defined to include whether a person is single, married, married to another person but living separately, divorced, widowed, de facto or a civil partner (there are of course protections for other attributes, including sexuality, which would see the Act respond to discrimination based on a same sex relationship, for example).

In Bond, Commissioner Dwyer acknowledged that there was potentially some ambiguity on this issue in other jurisdictions, including by reference to the NSW decision of Waterhouse v Bell (1991) 25 NSWLR 99.  In Waterhouse, Gai Waterhouse AO was successful in her complaint against the Australian Jockey Club for refusing her application for a trainer’s licence on the ground that she would be susceptible to corruption because of her marriage to Robbie Waterhouse. The Commissioner considered, however, that the position in Queensland was clear, with the protected attributed to be afforded a narrow interpretation and being limited to less favourable treatment on the basis of a person’s relationship status, and not their choice of relationship partner.

So, as it stands in Queensland, it is about the ‘I do’ and not the ‘who’ when it comes to the protected attributed of relationship status under the Act.

This publication constitutes a summary of the information of the subject matter covered. This information is not intended to be nor should it be relied upon as legal or any other type of professional advice. For further information in relation to this subject matter please contact the author.