Civil unions under Rudd?

Issue 

Following the election of the new federal Labor government, ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope announced that a third attempt would be made to introduce same-sex civil unions in the ACT. Legislation currently before the ACT Legislative Assembly will be voted on early next year.

When this legislation was first introduced in the ACT it was overturned by the Howard government. This happened in June 2006, before the legislation could even come into effect. The ACT Legislative Assembly made a second attempt at same-sex relationship recognition in February 2007. To appease the federal government, they changed the wording of the bill from a "civil union" bill to a "civil partnership" bill, and eliminated all references to marriage. In spite of these changes, the Coalition government threatened to overturn the legislation for a second time.

PM Kevin Rudd has indicated that the new federal Labor government will not overturn the legislation. "On these matters, state and territories are answerable to their own jurisdictions", Rudd told AAP on June 6. "State and territory governments are elected to govern, they are accountable to their constituents." While the federal Labor government might not overturn the legislation, the ALP is nevertheless still showing signs of homophobia. New Attorney General Robert McClelland told the December 1-2 Australian the government would "look at the proposal — the wording will be important, but we will look at it and get advice on it. I can certainly say that there was concern within caucus about the language used because it discussed registration as creating a relationship that was equivalent to marriage, and common sense suggests that if discussions can avoid those sorts of controversies then that should be the aim of those discussions."

The legislation currently before the ACT assembly allows for official ceremonies. This is in contradiction to ALP national policy that explicitly states that same-sex relationship recognition schemes should not "mimic marriage or undermine existing laws that define marriage as being between a man and a woman".

Victoria

Legislation for a same-sex relationship registry scheme was introduced to the Victorian state parliament on December 4. The registry scheme would allow same-sex couples to record their relationship with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. This would allow greater access to entitlements such as superannuation. It would not allow for official ceremonies. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activist groups have welcomed the legislation, but say the legislation should go further. "You have to ask, if the government is unwilling to allow official ceremonies, what are they afraid of? Do they want to hide our love, and worsen the invisibility of same-sex relationships in public life?" Civil Union Action activist John Kloprogge told the December 5 Age newspaper.

Federal de facto rights and marriage

LGBTI groups are now calling on the newly elected ALP federal government to immediately act on its election promises. One such promise was that a Labor federal government would repeal the 58 federal laws identified in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's report as discriminating against same-sex de facto couples. No such promise was made to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage, introduced by the Labor Party along with the Liberal Party in 2004. Groups such as the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH) have vowed to continue pressuring the federal government for same-sex marriage rights.

"It was protest that made all of this happen" says CAAH activist Rachel Evans. "Federal Labor does not want same-sex marriage, but more and more they are having to respond to pressure from the grassroots. This is why they are reluctant to overturn civil unions in the ACT. Let's keep fighting. The next national day of action for same-sex marriage rights is on August 13 next year."

Rodney Croome of the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group has also expressed scepticism about the new Labor federal government. He posted to his blog on November 29: "I shouldn't be surprised that so many of the young gay men and lesbians I speak to think that with the election defeat of John Howard and his Liberal Party the sky's the limit. Many of them have no experience of the frustrations, spin and occasional aggression of Federal Labor in power."

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