Activists are disappointed and angry about Attorney-General Philip Ruddock's June 6 announcement that the federal government will overturn legislation for same-sex civil unions in the ACT by August 1. ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell described the move as "homophobic", telling the June 6 Sydney Star Observer, "What they're saying is people in same sex relationships are [in] second class relationships".
Ruddock argues that the ACT legislation contradicts the federal marriage act, which was amended in 2004 to ban same-sex marriage. "The marriage act makes it clear that marriage is a union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others", he said on June 6. "That definition reflects the traditional understanding and was supported bipartisanly in 2004."
Ruddock claimed that the ACT government failed to change its legislation to satisfy the federal government, adding, "This issue could have been dealt with in a way that was not deliberately as confrontational as it was".
This is a curious claim given that, after the ACT law was passed, with 63 amendments, Ruddock said he was satisfied with it. Everything demanded by Ruddock and Howard was conceded. References comparing civil unions to marriages were eliminated, as was a provision allowing marriage celebrants to conduct civil union ceremonies. A paragraph was added stipulating that civil unions are not the same as marriage.
Federal ALP leader Kim Beazley opposes overriding the ACT law, but has reaffirmed his support for the 2004 same-sex marriage ban.
Rodney Croome from the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group said, "John Howard is importing the politics of hate and division straight from Washington and the Vatican into the lives of ordinary Australians". He told Green Left Weekly that despite this, more and more people are "embracing equality for same-sex couples".
"We're not surprised the federal government has done this", Farida Iqbal, co-convener of Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH) and a Resistance member, told GLW. "We can't rely on parliamentarians to secure our rights. We need people power, and we're organising a civil union ceremony in protest."
The battle for civil unions may now move to the states. CAAH organised a protest outside the NSW ALP state conference on June 10 to demand civil unions, and Victorian independent MP Andrew Olexander is drafting a same-sex civil union bill for that state.
[Rachel Evans is the National Union of Students' female queer officer and a member of the Socialist Alliance.]
From Green Left Weekly, June 14, 2006.
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