The ACT is set to bow to federal government pressure by removing references to marriage from its planned civil unions law and creating its own celebrants registry.
But the planned changes may not be enough to placate the commonwealth.
A spokesperson for attorney-general Philip Ruddock told Sydney Star Observer the federal government would probably still have reservations about the amended bill.
The ACT government will introduce its new-look Civil Union Bill sometime in the first two weeks of May.
The legislation would give gay couples who formed unions the same rights as married heterosexuals under ACT law.
ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope introduced the original bill last month but was forced to seek legal advice when the federal government said it would block the legislation because it equated same-sex partnerships with marriage. The federal government has the power to override territory laws.
Last week the ACT Liberal Party also voiced its opposition to the original bill, claiming it would contravene federal law.
In response the Stanhope government will create its own civil celebrant register. In the original bill, celebrants acting under commonwealth law were to preside over union ceremonies.
We won’t be attempting to use the commonwealth’s [register] any more because obviously that’s not going to fly, Stanhope’s spokesperson said.
They’ve made it quite clear that they don’t want the ACT to use their celebrants.
The Stanhope government has yet to finalise other changes, but it is likely to remove all mentions of marriage in the Civil Union Bill.
The new-look bill may also include a paragraph stating that civil unions are not the same as marriage.
There’s probably going to be some sort of playing with the language at some level to try and meet some of the concerns of the commonwealth, Stanhope’s spokesperson said.
Ruddock’s spokesperson said the government would need to see the legislation in its final form before they decided whether to block it.
Based on what they have said so far, there are still reservations -¦ because it’s not necessarily avoiding confusion between civil unions and marriage, he said
The government would, it seems, prefer a relationship register similar to Tasmania’s.
Asked whether the government would oppose the ACT bill no matter what, the spokesperson said: All I can do in that case is point you to Tasmania. The government didn’t step in on the Tasmanian civil unions [registration system].
The Tasmanian scheme, which took effect in 2004, allows same-sex couples to register their partnership and conveys spousal legal rights.
Unlike the proposed ACT law, Tasmania’s system is open only to residents of that state and does not provide for formal ceremonies.
The ACT government has expressed frustration that the government would block their bill no matter what form it takes.
They’re essentially saying, -˜If we think subjectively that you’re equating marriage and civil unions, we’ll stomp all over it,’ Stanhope’s spokesperson said.
The ACT government is confident the bill will pass their parliament and could take effect as soon as July -“ unless the federal government steps in.
Activists have stepped up their pro-civil unions campaign by planning another protest this weekend.
Protest co-organiser Farida Iqbal, from Community Action Against Homophobia, said the protesters would march from the ACT Legislative Assembly to federal parliament on Saturday.
Demonstrators held a similar protest on the streets of Canberra three weeks ago.
We think it’s urgent that we show some support at the bill’s going to parliament, Iqbal said.