The ACT government hopes reworked terminology and the removal of a controversial clause will be enough to prevent the federal government overruling its latest same-sex relationships recognition bill.
But six months after vetoing a similar ACT law because it was considered too much like marriage, federal attorney-general Philip Ruddock has not ruled out overriding the new reform.
ACT attorney-general Simon Corbell introduced the Civil Partnerships Bill in parliament on Tuesday. It is intended to replace the defunct Civil Unions Act, which was overturned in June.
The new bill refers to civil partnerships rather than using the term civil unions. The ACT government has also removed a clause stipulating civil unions were to be treated like marriages.
The planned law would enable same-sex and opposite-sex couples to form legally recognised partnerships with similar rights to married couples in the ACT.
It would include a provision allowing partnership ceremonies and is understood also to allow couples from outside the ACT to form partnerships in the territory.
Corbell told Sydney Star Observer community consultation showed most Canberrans supported a legal framework that allows these relationships not just to be registered but to be legally created.
The Civil Partnerships Bill provides that a civil partnership is a domestic partnership, a concept already well-established in territory law, Corbell said.
A civil partnership is not a marriage, and the use of -˜partnership’ instead of -˜union’ highlights this difference.
The government can see no grounds for refusing recognition to same-sex relationships, or for refusing couples in any relationship the opportunity to enjoy functional legal equality with married couples under ACT law.
The bill is due to be debated when the ACT legislative assembly resumes in early 2007. The territory’s opposition Liberal Party said it is against the bill but the Jon Stanhope Labor government has a majority in parliament and the bill is expected to pass by April.
The latest changes have yet to mollify the federal government. Philip Ruddock told ABC News this week he was disappointed the ACT government had not shown him the amended bill before introducing it in parliament.
If Simon Corbell had wanted the benefit of a considered opinion, I think he would have given me a look at the bill before he introduced it, Ruddock said.
If you are looking to conclude a situation in a less confrontational way, you obviously would make known what you had in mind and invite some consideration of it.
That is not what has happened and we will take the time to look at what the territory government has put forward.
I’ve noted that there have been some changes, but I want to reflect on the totality of the issues before I give a considered view.
Ruddock angered the ACT government, activists and same-sex couples when he vetoed the Civil Unions Act in June, calling it a cynical attempt to undermine marriage.
By that stage the ACT government had already introduced significant changes to the law, including a paragraph stating civil unions were not the same as marriage.
Canberra gay and lesbian activists are hopeful the latest bill will become law and not be overridden, allowing same-sex couples to have their relationships recognised publicly.
We think it’s great that it includes a ceremony in the legislation, Mandy Sharplin, spokesperson for gay lobby group Good Process, told Sydney Star Observer.
We did community consultation and [ceremonies] were what the majority of the community wanted.
Legal recognition is what’s important. People want to be able to celebrate with their families and friends.