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NEWS: Oz Civil Unions Hit Snag Over Ceremonies

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Oz Civil Unions Hit Snag Over Ceremonies

by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff

Posted: February 7, 2008 - 5:00 pm ET

(Canberra) Legislation that would allow same-sex couples in the Australian Capital Territory to enter into civil unions has drawn the ire of the federal government over plans to allow the couples to hold public ceremonies marking the events.

The territorial government announced plans in November to reintroduce civil union legislation that twice before had been blocked by the former federal Liberal government.

At the time the new Labor government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said it was not opposed in principle to the bill. But now the plan to allow ceremonies could change that.

We think a civil unions register along the lines of Tasmania is appropriate," Attorney-General Robert McClelland told The Australian newspaper.

Tasmania has had a domestic partner registry that grants very limited rights to same-sex couples. The state of Victoria is considering a similar measure.

The ACT civil union bill is more extensive and the Rudd government has called for the territory to limit what if offers gay and lesbian couples, warning the legislation could violate Australian law which limits marriage to opposite-sex couples.

The major sticking point, however, are the ceremonies.

"The ceremonial aspects of the ACT model were inappropriate," McClelland said this week.

The territorial government says it won't back down.

"We will stand by our commitment to our community for the legal option for a ceremony - that is our position," ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell told The Australian.

The federal government is not saying whether it will override the territory if the civil union bill is passed.

Twice before the territorial government passed civil unions legislation only to see the laws voided by the federal government of then Prime Minister John Howard. (story) Howard said the legislation violated a ban on gay marriage in Australia that was enacted by the federal Parliament in 2004.

After the first attempt by the ACT government to legalize civil unions the federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission began an investigation into inequities faced by same-sex couples. The commission held hearings across the country. (story)

Commissioners heard from dozens of gay couples in hearings across the country of how partners have been cut out of wills because they have not legal status, how children in same-sex relationships are harmed, and how federal pension law hurts one partner when the other dies.

In its report to the government last June the Commission made more than 50 recommendations and urged the passing laws guaranteeing rights for same-sex couples.

?365Gay.com 2008

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I guess the concept is that civil unions are okay, as long as they are done in the closet.

Closet unions are a lot of fun if you get all the guests in at the same time.

Now you know why I had serious reservations about our new Labor government.

They seem to be enacting their election policies with as much bureaucratic delay as possible.

The only good thing about them in relation to the previous Liberal Government is that they sound like they are gay friendly on Thursdays at 4.10 pm. Further comments not being available till the following Monday when they hope that everyone will have forgotten.

Make no mistake we are under attack to have our freedoms curtailed, in my opinion, through procrastination under the guise of palavering to all concerns.

If ever we needed a gay Gilbert and Sullivan biting operetta it is now.

Monty Python would have a field day with this material too.

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More detail, from The Australian

Gay unions are OK ... just don't do it in public

Paul Maley

February 07, 2008

Source: The Australian

CLAUSES in the ACT's civil partnerships bill that would allow gay couples to hold a public ceremony marking their union are unacceptable, Attorney-General Robert McClelland says.

Mr McClelland told The Australian the Rudd Government would not allow civil unions, and reiterated Labor's preference for a system of state-based relationship registers.

"We think a civil unions register along the lines of Tasmania is appropriate. The ceremonial aspects of the ACT model were inappropriate," Mr McClelland said.

The AttorneyGeneral of the ACT, Simon Corbell, said the territory would not back down on ceremonies. He said the ACT would try to abolish powers in the ACT Self-Government Act that allow the commonwealth to override territory law, calling them "archaic and undemocratic".

Mr McClelland's comments would seem to resolve apparently conflicting promises from the Rudd team who, before the election, told the Australian Christian Lobby that Labor would oppose civil unions, while assuring the ACT that federal Labor would not interfere with territory legislation.

Mr Corbell said the issue showed the limits of the ACT's law-making powers.

The commonwealth can kybosh territory laws with an act of parliament or by instructing the Governor-General to disallow the legislation, which is how the Howard government scuttled the ACT's Civil Unions Bill in 2006.

While noting the "high level of similarity" between the commonwealth and ACT models, Mr Corbell said his Government would not budge on ceremonies.

"We will stand by our commitment to our community for the legal option for a ceremony. That is our position," he said.

Mr McClelland said last month he was still in negotiations with the ACT, but that he had written to all the state attorneys-general advising them of the commonwealth's preferred model.

Mr McClelland declined to say whether the Rudd Government was prepared to override territory legislation if the ACT defied it and passed the bill.

A relationship register differs from a civil union in that it encompasses a broader range of relationships, including non-intimate ones, such as carer relationships.

Before last year's election, Mr Corbell said he had secured undertakings from Mr Rudd's team that the ACT would be allowed to legislate as it saw fit.

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