The gay and lesbian community was due to pick up a swag of new rights last night with the state government approving changes to 25 pieces of discriminatory legislation.
Dubbed the missing pieces legislation, the 25 Acts of parliament were left over from earlier efforts to bring state laws up to speed for same-sex and de facto couples.
When the Star went to press, both the Labor and Liberal parties were due to support the changes.
On the Labor side, attorney-general Bob Debus brought the Miscellaneous Acts Amen-dment (Relation-ships) Bill before the NSW Lower House last week. He was due to add one minor amendment to include a tax exemption for same-sex couples.
Shadow attorney-general Chris Hartcher told the Star before the debate the Liberal Party had agreed to support the changes, but would move an amendment to protect the term spouse.
We are looking for a separate definition for people who are married to each other. We still support granting rights for homosexual people -“ this won’t affect that, he said.
The controversy over the use of the term spouse emerged when the debate was previously heard in the state Upper House.
Reverend Fred Nile from the Christian Democrats moved an amendment to the legislation during its first hearing, seeking to separate the term spouse from de facto and same-sex relationships.
Spouse, Nile argued, was a word which recognised the higher status afforded to married couples.
The Liberal upper house members supported Nile’s amendment, which was eventually lost.
Following that debate, the Sydney Anglican Diocese issued a statement calling for the term spouse to be maintained as a separate term for traditionally married couples.
Sydney Diocesan secretary Mark Payne said while the church had no opposition to giving similar rights to those in same-sex or de facto relationships, its members were concerned the redefinition of the word spouse ignored the sanctity of marriage.
The policy of the Bill could easily have been achieved without compromising the traditional and common meaning of the term -˜spouse’, Payne said in the press statement.
Our concern is that this legislation is the first step to change by stealth the community understanding of the marriage relationship, and ultimately to erode marriage so that it is generally seen as equal to de facto relationships and same-sex unions.
Payne promised the church faithful would carefully monitor the debate in the lower house.
The bipartisan support for the missing pieces changes has also raised questions about other discriminatory pieces of legislation which were not included.
Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Andrew Pickles said there were glaring holes. These included 11 Acts of Parliament which could have been changed without any extra angst for the government.
There seems to be no reason for leaving some of these things out. At the end of the day it’s the same type of thing, it’s about having the same change in definition of the word -˜spouse’, he told the Star.
Pickles said the most obvious omission was the Anti-Discrimination Act: At the moment it’s unlawful to discriminate against some one on the grounds of their marital status. Changing the Act to include people living in same-sex or de facto relationships would have been simple.
The 11 omissions did not include three perceived as more difficult to change -“ the Adoption Act, to allow co-parents adoption rights, the Industrial Relations Act and the Crimes Act, which would equalise the age of consent for gay men.
Pickles said the Lobby would continue to push for equal rights in those areas left unchanged.
Changes to the Crimes Act, which would see an equal age of consent for gay men in NSW, have gone to an upper house committee and will be debated after next year’s election.
After the first debate, Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said changing the missing pieces legislation would not be the end of homophobia in NSW politics.
Other homophobic stains remain on the NSW statute books -“ the Adoption Act still prohibits same-sex couples from adopting, and the Anti-Discrimination Act still allows private schools and church organisations to practise homophobic discrimination, Rhiannon said.
The government is to be congratulated on the Miscellaneous Acts Bill, but it is only one step in the right direction.