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Aussie Civil Partnerships - Take Three

Thu 6 Dec 2007 In: Comment View at Wayback

Kevin Rudd Across the Tasman, the incoming Rudd administration has said it won't move to repeal Australia's same-sex marriage ban, but does it consider civil unions a parallel institution, and not same-sex marriage per se? Good question. At state and territory levels, same-sex couples are usuallyincludedunderlegislation that covers de factorelationships.In Tasmania (2004) and Victoria (2007), registeredpartnershave access to many rights to prove that a relationship exists. However, same-sex couples often must go to court to prove a relationship exists in New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, and Northern Territory and Queensland because of domestic partnerships (also called unregistered cohabitation). Given past discrimination against same sex couples, anydifficulty related to documentation aboutsame sex relationships can make it difficult for them to access legal entitlements. Various Australian states and territories have registered partnership, civil unions, significant relationships or domestic partner protections for same-sex couples. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has the 'Domestic Relationships Act 1994'. As with our own Relationships Property Act 2001, this covers redistribution of property and finances in the event of a separation as well asinheritance in the event of death. The ACT also has enacted laws relating to same-sex adoption. Like Britain andNew Zealand, the ACT Government announced plans for civil union legislation.Itpassed its firstCivil Unions Act 2006 on 11 May, 2006. The ACT enacted the legislation a month later,but Australia's Governor-General disallowed ita week lateraftertheFederal Executive Council -consisting ofPrime Minister Howard and his senior Cabinet Ministers - interfered. In December 2006, the Australian Capital Territory government proceeded with new legislation recognizing same-sex unions based on British civil partnership laws. In February 2007 the legislation was again blocked, and the federal Attorney General indicated that the Commonwealth would oppose this new legislation. Both these laws described were then repealed by then-Attorney General Phillip Ruddock. However, the incoming federal ALP Attorney General has indicated that it will not follow suit as the ACT prepares for a third try. In Canberra itself, the Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, has made it clear that he regards this as a matter of principle. Oddly, there are even some conciliatory noises from the new Liberal Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, who argues that while he opposes same-sex marriage, inclusive adoption reform and lesbian IVF access, he and his caucus may be prepared to revise their view of civil unions. However, the Melbourne Age disagrees with its slightly northern counterpart. It believes that the newly elected ALP federal government is on a "collision course" with the ACT ALP Territory administration over the issue of civil unions. Why? Well, it has been claimed that the federal ALP's opposition to same-sex marriage even extends to parallel institutions that do not amend the federal marriage laws per se, like civil unions. The Australian Christian Lobby argues that Rudd "promised" that the federal ALP wouldn't let civil unions go ahead. If Rudd indeed made such a promise, what was he thinking? Christian Right organisations are pathologically opposed to anything even remotely social democratic or green in political hue, as Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown noted when he objected to the biased wording in an ACL survey questionnaire during the recent federal election. Well, there could be one way out of this, however- Rudd makes it a caucus conscience vote, and while he might presumably vote against such a measure, that would not necessarily bind his caucus. Moreover, there's the matter of public opinion to consider. About sixty to seventy percent of Australians now support civil union guarantees for lesbian and gay relationship recognition, and far more equality than has been the case with the Howard administration. If Rudd fails this test, he risks alienating a sizable metropolitan voting constituency, and would be out of step with the Clark and Brown administrations. Watch this space. Recommended: Canberra Times: Melbourne Age: Craig Young - 6th December 2007    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Thursday, 6th December 2007 - 10:19am

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