Title: Civil Unions Bill distracts from Omnibus Bill Credit: Dave Crampton Comment Thursday 1st April 2004 - 12:00pm1080777600 Article: 202 Rights
While all the fuss and ruckus is being raised over the Civil Unions Bill, it's actually the accompanying Omnibus Bill that does the real work and achieves the most for couples, says Dave Crampton. Well, it's all on. Prime Minister Helen Clark is at war with the Maxim Institute over the Institute's views on relationship recognition and the Government's proposed relationship equivalence legislation. This is to take the form of two bills, one of them being the Civil Union bill. This bill will extend to all unmarried couples, gay or straight, who live, "in the nature of marriage". The attacks on the Maxim Institute are primarily as a result of its stance for a marriage institution that excludes same sex couples. There are more than 1000 provisions in 160 statutes and regulations that distinguish between married and unmarried couples. There are also 51 statutes that no longer distinguish between married and unmarried couples, but extend to all couples. Examples are the Property Relationships Act 1986, the Parental Leave and Employment Act 1987. and the first Act that extended to same sex couples, the Electricity Act 1992, that enables same sex couples to fix each others appliances. Helen Clark is much happier giving interviews to gay Express than to the New Zealand Herald. Miss Clark is reported as considering marriage irrelevant. Miss Clark has publicly said that had Civil Unions been an option when she married Dr Peter Davis (at her best man Jim Anderton's suggestion) in the early eighties, she and Dr Davis would have taken that option. Civil unions are not the preference for many in the gay community, though. It seems that many in the community value marriage more than Miss Clark does. In a poll on most people preferred marriage to civil unions (but, like Miss Clark, would lower their sights to get a civil union if that was all there was available to same sex couples). Most who took part in the poll felt they understood the proposed legislation, but only 20 percent have bothered to get in contact with their MP to tell them they want marriage, rather than civil unions. In fact all a Civil Union Act will do is provide a mechanism to recognise a relationship and register that relationship with the Births, Deaths and Marriages office. There will be no legal benefits from being in a civil union, as all legal benefits will be extended to unmarried couples with the passing of the Omnibus bill and extend to all unmarried couples, including those outside a civil union. The only legal benefits resulting in the granting of a civil union is if the Civil Union Bill is passed and the Omnibus Bill is voted out. It remains to be seen whether an amendment will be made to the Property Relationships Act to ensure that unmarried couples who have been together fewer than three years will receive as equal property rights that married couples enjoy. Logic would suggest that this change be considered, as next-of-kin rights will be equalised in the Omnibus bill. That's the key bill for those who want legal recognition. It's just that those in the gay community want equal recognition with married couples, but that's something the proposed legislation will not provide for. Civil Union is a relationship status that is lower than full marriage rights. The Government has already ruled out altering the Marriage Act 1955, which would provide that equality. Dave Crampton is Wellington-based writer and blogs at: Dave Crampton - 1st April 2004    
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