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12 Feb 2008

ceremonial aspects of same-sex union ''unacceptable,'' ACT govt told

The Attorney-General says the federal government is opposed to the Australian Capital Territory's intention to restore the original version of the ACT Civil Unions Act which was struck down in 2006.

Laws that would allow same-sex couples to form civil unions in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) were originally scheduled to be debated in parliament this month but it stalled as it faced heavy pressure from PM Kevin Rudd's new government.

One of the main points of contention is that the territory is insisting on a system of civil unions that would allow gay couples to hold a ceremony.

In response to a rally held on Feb 2 which demanded the restoration of the original version of the ACT civil unions act, Australia's federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland told the February 7 Australian that the Rudd government thinks "a civil unions register along the lines of Tasmania is appropriate" while the "ceremonial aspects of the ACT model were inappropriate."

The register, which has been in effect in Tasmania since 2004, differs from a civil union in that it recognises a broad range of relationships, including de facto heterosexual relationships and familial relationships, for the purposes of recognition by government. The state of Victoria is considering a similar measure.

At the Feb 2 rally, ACT Labor Attorney-General Simon Corbell and openly gay ACT Labor MP Andrew Barr reiterated their commitment to civil unions in the territory.

"The [ACT] government will not walk away from the principle that people in a same-sex relationship should be entitled to enter that relationship legally before the law and to do so through a formal ceremony that is recognised by the law", Corbell told the rally.

"We should be able to say, if we want to recognise same-sex relationships in this way, and if the democratically elected [ACT Legislative] Assembly chooses to legislate in that way, then that is what the law should be."

On Jun 13, 2006, the former federal Liberal government in a rare move used its powers under the ACT Self Government Act to strike down a law which was fast-tracked by the Territory's Labor government, to grant civil unions between same-sex couples.

"The Tasmanian scheme met the needs and wishes of the Tasmanian community. However, the ACT community clearly preferred a civil unions model and that is the model that the Government is pursuing," a spokesperson for ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope told The Canberra Times.

The spokesperson added that the Bill would not be brought forward until "policy differences" between the Territory and the Commonwealth are resolved.

ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries, who crossed the floor to vote against his government's overturning of a gay rights Bill in 2006, labelled it "hypocrisy" as the Labor Government was now "baulking" at similar legislation.

He was quoted as saying in The Times on Feb 10 that the territory had the right to govern itself and suggested that the Rudd Government wasn't serious in 2006 and just wanted to have a go at the federal government and to presumably exploit the gay vote.

"They wanted to get gay people to believe they were on their side, but now that it comes down to making a real decision, they no longer seem to be on that side and think there are more votes to be lost by supporting such legislation."

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group activist Rodney Croome pointed out that "what opponents of the Stanhope government's proposal are saying is that gay relationships are fine as long as they aren't visibly and officially celebrated."

"The Rudd Government should listen to what Canberrans want instead of trying to arm-twist an outcome that appeases Christian lobbyists," Croome told Eevolution.com.au.

The Federal Government's stance on civil unions or any scheme that excludes an official ceremony is similar to what the Australian Christian Lobby has officially said it would support.

While ACT is a very small jurisdiction with a population of some 339,000 - majority of whom live in the capital city of Canberra, observers say that the issue is closely watched not only by the gay and lesbian community but also parts of the Christian community Australia-wide and the outcome would set a precedence for other states.

Key features of the Tasmanian relationship registry

The relationship registry is administered by the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and was opened on January 1st 2004.

Any two people can register a Deed of Relationship including those in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships (called "significant relationships"), and those in companionate and familial relationships (called "caring relationships").

When two people register a Deed of Relationship they enter into a new legal union and acquire virtually all of the rights of married couples in state law.

There is no official, ceremonial component to entering a Deed of Relationship, but some couples arrange their own ceremony to coincide with the signing of their Deed of Relationship.

Tasmanian registered relationships are automatically recognised in countries such as the UK as civil partnerships. They are beginning to be recognised in federal law as proof of the existence of a relationship in areas such as immigration.

Source: Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group


Reader's Comments

1. 2008-02-12 23:58  
Grrr... and that Kevin Rudd seemed like such a nice guy.
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8. 2008-02-13 09:06  
and seemingly intelligent, companssionate, leaders of vision and insight continue to toy with our human rights, our hearts and souls, (our votes and our trust) our wealth, those whom we love and our very lives. We are not being taken seriously or treated equally by any government anywhere on this planet. For decades, a carrot has been dangled in front of our noses, just out of reach.....we will tolerate this abuse, marginilisation, oppression, torture and persecution for how much longer???
9. 2008-02-13 11:36  
gee..so many people had such high hopes with kevin rudd. perhaps those same people were a little too eager
10. 2008-02-13 18:10  
Tough choice: civil union with ceremony or relationship register without?!

11. 2008-02-13 18:48  
oh give the guy a break.. he just apologized to the aborigines today! it is a gesture that deserved respect. i believe that the Rudd government will benefit the gay community in Australia heaps. mmm, fingers crossed for same sex marriage to be legalized !
its a long run, but we will surely win!
12. 2008-02-13 23:14  
They are making a big mistake both socially and financially; the civil unions in the UK (about 18,000 in the first year - but this would include a backlog of people waiting for years to do this) seem to have revitalised the whole wedding industry in the UK. The registry offices have a whole new area of business and source of income, which they are very glad to see.

Not everyone wants a ceremony, but most do I think. It's important that a couple have the right to a ceremony if they choose; it makes all the difference to make this lifetime legal and emotional commitment in the presence of family and friends. At the end of ours, the female Registrar even gave us a hug and a bottle of champagne! And this in a very conservative (but totally accepting of gays) borough of London.

I don't understand why some heterosexuals feel that allowing gay people this freedom and happiness, which straights take for granted, in some way detracts from or weakens heterosexual marriage. There is no logic to their position.

I hope Australia sees reason, and becomes progressive again. It used to be ahead of Europe years ago in recognising same sex partnerships for immigration purposes, but now seems to lack the courage to do the right thing.
13. 2008-02-14 04:48  
We shouldn't settle for anything less than full marriage rights. We should all demand to be treated as equals before the law, in every country. Five countries have already opened the institution of marriage to same-sex couples: the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, South Africa and Spain - many more will follow.
14. 2009-11-11 19:36  
# 1 Kevin Rudd seemed like a nice guy?

Personally I think he is arrogant...yes, he seemed ok to start with..but lately he has been defying public opinion on a number of issues, this being one of them. (As well as his poor handling of asylum seekers...but thats another issue).... The problem is...at the moment there aren't any better alternatives...so the politcal scene in Australia is screwed for the time being as far as I can see. The liberals and The labor party claim to be different....but really...they aren't much different...both hopeless....we need someone new....

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