The launch of South Sydney Council’s partnership register last Friday may have been overshadowed by reports that South Sydney would merge with the City, but the register scheme itself has been hailed as an Australian first.

Tasmania’s relationships registration scheme will commence before South Sydney’s, but bookings for South Sydney’s first registration day on Saturday 7 February are now being taken. The Tasmanian registration process will open for bookings on 1 January.

The deputy mayor of South Sydney, Councillor Peter Furness, said he was delighted to be launching the partnerships register, but warned that the extension of registration schemes for same-sex couples could lead to a two-tier apartheid-type system if homosexual people were not also extended the right to marry.

Recent comments by the prime minister suggesting that same-sex marriage would somehow damage the institution and threaten the species diminish our nation, Furness said. An intention or ability to procreate has never been a pre-condition for marriage under Australian law. Indeed, an inability to stir from one’s deathbed has been no obstacle to many a marriage.

The registration scheme has been applauded by Furness’s Rainbow Labor colleagues, while the Labor mayor of South Sydney, Cr Tony Pooley, defended the decision to introduce the register at a time when the council is crying poor regarding proposed amalgamations with the City of Sydney.

[The register] is a progressive social policy that’s entirely based on a user-pays arrangement, Cr Pooley told Sydney Star Observer. We’re not charging a registration fee of $220 because we seek to slug people. The only way that we can make this viable, so it’s not a drain on our financial position, is by imposing a significant fee. It was always part of the proposal and we believe it will be cost-neutral to council.

Cr Furness declined to comment on how proposed council amalgamations could impact on the scheme, but said it was his understanding that merged councils adopt each other’s programs.

Although the register will be available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, it is anticipated that same-sex couples will be particularly attracted to the scheme.

Local couple David Hawkins and Michael Churton plan to register their relationship shortly after the scheme commences, as they had already decided to stage a commitment ceremony early in the new year.

Hawkins, who plans to introduce a proposal for a similar scheme to Campbelltown City Council, where he is an independent councillor, said the registration process would be a public recognition of our partnership.

Registration could have other benefits as well, he said.

Michael’s a New Zealander, and if he wants to apply for citizenship in the future, registration could help, Hawkins said.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Rob McGrory said the partnership register may have a strong symbolic value for lesbian and gay couples.

The Lobby would remind couples that registration does not, of itself, entitle them to any greater legal rights or protections, McGrory warned. Those legal rights are already afforded to them by the NSW de facto legislation. The register also highlights the ongoing discrimination against lesbians and gay men at a federal level and the need for reform in areas such as superannuation, immigration and taxation.

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