Labor, Greens weaken ACT civil unions bill


When the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Legislative Assembly passed a civil unions bill, on November 11, 2009, granting same-sex couples the right to legally binding ceremonies, speculation abounded about how long it would last.

The ACT had previously had civil unions for a few months — from May 11 to August 1, 2006. The then Coalition government used federal powers to overturn the bill.

In this case, ALP Prime Minister Kevin Rudd responded to the ACT government's new civil unions bill by pressuring it to water down the changes.

On December 10, the ACT Labor government amended the bill, doing away with the legally binding civil union ceremonies. While same-sex civil unions would be allowed, they would have no legal standing. The celebrant must "notify" the ACT Registrar General of the ceremony for it to receive legal recognition.

Prominent Tasmanian gay rights activist Rodney Croome said on his blog that, legally, the amendment meant little change. The celebrant's role is no longer to legally recognise ("solemnise") the relationship, but to notify the registrar, who would then grant it legal status.

However, politically, Croome noted: "There's a world of difference, thanks to the fact that the binding 'solemnising' ceremonies are more like marriages and therefore enrage those anti-gay Christian groups that believe 'holy matrimony' must be defended at all costs from 'the sin' of homosexuality."

Disappointingly, ACT Labor's amendments were not blocked by the ACT Greens.
"Equal rights activists are deeply disappointed that the ACT Legislative Assembly will today vote to water down civil partnership laws, removing the legal effect of ceremonies, after the ACT Greens announced this morning their intention not to block Labor's amendments to the laws", Equal Love Canberra said on December 12.