Rally backs civil unions law
On February 2, 150 people rallied in support of same-sex civil unions in the Australian Capital Territory, demanding the restoration of the original version of the ACT civil unions act, which included the right to hold an official ceremony and the right for non-ACT residents to obtain a civil union certificate.
In June 2006, the federal Coalition government used its powers under the ACT Self-Government Act to strike down a law, introduced a month earlier by the ACT Labor government, to grant civil unions between same-sex couples.
The rally was addressed by ACT Labor attorney-general Simon Corbell, ACT Labor MP Andrew Barr, ACT Greens MP Deb Foskey and Socialist Alliance activist Amy McDonnell.
Despite federal Labor government pressure, Barr and Corbell reiterated their commitment to civil unions in the ACT. "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."
Federal Labor attorney-general Robert McClelland told the February 7 Australian that PM Kevin Rudd's government thinks "a civil unions register along the lines of Tasmania is appropriate", adding that the "ceremonial aspects of the ACT model were inappropriate".
A spokesperson for ACT Labor Chief Minister John Stanhope however told the January 31 Canberra Times: "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."
Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group activist Rodney Croome identified the stance of the federal government as homophobic. "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", Croome told Eevolution.com.au, adding: "The chief minister is to be applauded for defying this kind of prejudice."
Last year, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission released a frequently cited report, Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry, that found there were 58 federal laws discriminating against same-sex couples, prompting Rudd to commit to rectifying these areas of inequality.
However, Rudd was also pursued the Australian Christian Lobby for electoral support, promising that he would not support civil unions or legally recognised partnerships of any kind for same-sex couples.
Rudd has proposed a nation-wide registry scheme of same-sex couples with no provisions for official civil union ceremonies. While Rudd has noted that it is not federal ALP policy to directly interfere with state and territory legislation, his government is pressuring the ACT Labor government not to reintroduce a civil partnerships law.
A parade float in support of same-sex marriage will be travelling on March 1 from Canberra for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. A national day of action in support of same-sex marriage will be held in mid-August.