Same-sex law reform blocked

On September 4, the federal Labor government introduced a bill in parliament to partially end discrimination against same-sex couples.

The bill aims to remove discrimination in the areas of social security, taxation, Medicare, veterans' affairs, workers' compensation and educational assistance. The legislation would not allow for same-sex marriage, but would apply only to de facto couples.

This bill is the second in a series of legislative packages aimed at reforming over 100 federal laws which discriminate against same-sex couples. The first bill, targeting superannuation, was put before parliament in late July. The Liberal/National opposition, then still controlling a majority in the Senate, blocked the bill and sent it to a Senate inquiry, the results of which are expected on September 30.

The Liberals have also objected to the latest bill on the grounds that it allows for "polygamy" by recognising de facto relationships where one partner may still be in an estranged marriage, and does not define same-sex couples as interdependent.

Gay rights advocate Rodney Croome rejects these objections as delaying tactics. "Concern about interdependent couples is only one part of a bigger oppositional strategy that we could call a 'cycle of objection'", Croome wrote on his blog on September 8.

"First, opponents of reform say their primary concern is the recognition of interdependent couples. Next, the big issue is marriage retaining a special legal status. Next, they're on about polygamy. After that, it's the 'biological fiction' of two-mum and two-dad families. Then, it's back to interdependency and the whole thing starts over."

While recognising the bill as an important reform to end the financial burden on same-sex couples, Croome is also critical of the legislation. Relationship registry schemes won in the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania are commonly understood in the queer community as being an important partial victory for same-sex relationship recognition, perhaps even a step towards marriage rights. Yet they are not defined in this way in the new same-sex entitlements bill.

Rather, they are defined as a sub-category of de facto relationships. Not only does the bill not allow the right to marry, it goes further to rob relationship registry schemes of any resemblance to marriage.

Socialist Alliance activist Rachel Evans told Green Left Weekly, "The discrimination in federal law has to end, so it is good that this bill is being put forward. But the protests for same-sex marriage are the reason why the Labor Party is bothering to put forward this bill at all. We have to keep up that pressure. An end to discrimination in any area is a positive step, so we have to fight the Liberal Party objections. But we can't let this inadequate bill put us to sleep either. We deserve better than partial equality. We deserve the right to marry. In this bill we see the homophobia of both major parties."

The Coalition has the numbers to block the legislation in the Senate with the support of Family First Senator Steve Fielding.