Last weekend Jennifer Lloyd and her partner of three years Glenda Millgate rushed out to buy rings to exchange at the civil union ceremony they were planning for later this month.
The situation was far from ideal -“ in their haste, the Canberra couple was forced to take what the jeweller had in stock, not what they really wanted.
But Lloyd and Millgate were determined to formalise their relationship before the federal government’s looming overrule of the ACT civil unions law went ahead.
The pair had already contacted a civil celebrant and were organising a party for family and friends.
Even if it gets nullified, we did want to actually have the opportunity of having a civil union in the first place, Lloyd told Sydney Star Observer on Tuesday morning.
Later that day, Lloyd and Millgate’s plans, like those of other same-sex couples in the ACT and some from surrounding states, came unstuck with news the federal government had gone ahead with its overrule earlier than expected.
On the advice of the federal government, the governor-general Michael Jeffery agreed to the veto that morning. The move took effect at midnight on Tuesday.
Reflecting the rollercoaster ride of legislation that passed ACT parliament just a month ago after commonwealth threats and ACT amendments, Lloyd and Millgate have vowed not to give up on their civil union just yet.
As the ACT government and federal politicians prepared to challenge the veto, the Canberra couple cancelled this month’s ceremony but remained hopeful.
Each day seems to be different, Lloyd told the Star after the overrule.
[We’re] hopeful that it’s not finished yet, that it will put enough of a thought into people’s minds that it will still come back in and get approved.
We will definitely go ahead and do it some time.
Labor, the Greens and the Democrats have proposed a Senate disallowance motion against the federal overrule, due to be debated and voted on by early next week.
Greens senator Kerry Nettle told the Star the motion needed the support of 39 out of 76 senators to succeed, including at least three government senators.
The motion’s supporters have appealed to Liberal senator and former ACT chief minister Gary Humphries to back the move.
Humphries, who has criticised the commonwealth’s interference with the ACT law, said yesterday he would not support the government on the issue.
Even if Humphries voted for the motion, Nettle said it would be tough to get it through the government-controlled Senate.
I don’t want to say it’s not possible because it is -¦ but it’s difficult to see where that [support] will come from at this stage, she said.
Shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon said any Coalition MPs committed to removal of discrimination do have to think seriously about whether they can vote with the prime minister on this.
If the Senate motion fails, the ACT government would consider introducing its civil unions bill in parliament again.
The ACT remains open to any detailed amendments the commonwealth wishes to see in the new bill, ACT attorney-general Simon Corbell said.
The onus is on the commonwealth to take a constructive approach and tell us which clauses in the existing legislation should be amended and in what way.
Corbell called the federal government’s veto arrogant and undemocratic.
We have not trespassed on commonwealth laws and the federal government is restricting the right of the ACT parliament to make laws for the people of the ACT.
A spokesperson for federal attorney-general Philip Ruddock said the government would consider any future amendments to the civil unions law.
Activists are also stepping up pressure on the federal government.
The Civil Unions Defence Coalition, a lobby group formed in the ACT this week, said the commonwealth should respect the ACT’s democratically elected government.
Our Coalition is made up of a wide variety of gay and non-gay organisations and will be lobbying MPs and conducting rallies to support the Civil Union Act, spokesperson Mary-Anne Cosgrove said.
Rod Swift from the Australian Coalition for Equality said the fight for civil unions was far from over.
We were obviously shocked and disappointed by [the overrule], Swift told the Star.
The next front will be the Senate.
Meantime, The Bulletin reported Philip Ruddock originally intended to tell the ACT government exactly how to amend its civil unions bill so it would be acceptable, but was stopped by prime minister John Howard.
The Bulletin report said Howard directed Ruddock to write only in the most general terms.
Howard was able to dismiss the changes as not going far enough. One federal Liberal MP -“ in private conversation with colleagues -“ has described what Howard and Ruddock did as a -˜sting operation’.