The ACT government’s civil union legislation, which would give same-sex partners the same rights as married couples, will be introduced to parliament in the last week of March.

It is expected to then be debated in the first half of May. If all goes to plan, civil unions could become legal in the nation’s capital before the end of 2006.

ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope announced last December his government would be the first in Australia to introduce civil unions.

A spokesperson for Stanhope this week told Sydney Star Observer the decision had been surprisingly well received.

There had been no public backlash as there was when Stanhope’s Labor government introduced adoption rights for gay and lesbian people in 2003. One incident had involved eggs being thrown at ACT parliament house.

Prime Minister John Howard also threatened to attempt to overturn the adoption law, but never did.

The federal government will not oppose the civil union legislation, with Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock saying in January that civil unions are a matter for the states and territories.

Tasmania introduced a partnership registration scheme in 2003, which gay rights activist Rodney Croome said was just as far-reaching as the proposed ACT legislation.

A civil union will give couples exactly the same rights as married couples in areas such as wills and the division of properties.

The ACT government decided to go ahead with the legislation after consultations with the community last year about what type of same-sex relationship recognition to introduce -“ marriage, civil unions or a partnership registry.

The civil union model will be based on the system introduced into New Zealand last year.

Stanhope’s Labor government has a history of progressive law reform. During its first term the party conducted an audit of all ACT legislation and removed every piece of law which discriminated on the basis of sexuality. This included allowing gay and lesbian people to apply for adoption.

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