Equality proponents are pushing the Rudd Government to give a time-frame for same-sex couples to have equal access to the Family Court for all relationship breakdown matters.
Former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson said it was a human rights imperative for same-sex couples to have the same access as married and heterosexual de facto couples.
To force same-sex couples to continue to rely on state Supreme Courts, which are often more expensive and whose personnel have less experience in family law matters, would be a continuing breach of the human rights of lesbians and gay men and their families, Professor Nicholson wrote to the Attorney-General this month.
The Family Court is the appropriate institution to resolve such disputes, given that its judges and other personnel have experience in relationship matters and given the relative ease of the Family Court’s procedures.
In particular, the conciliation and mediation procedures of the Family Court have traditionally been effective in resolving at least 60 percent of such disputes at a relatively early stage without trial.
Same-sex couples with children can use the federal Family Court for resolving parenting disputes, but not property matters. Western Australia is the only state to have its own Family Court, which already handles same-sex property disputes.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland has told his state counterparts he will act on their referral of powers in this area, but he is yet to give a public commitment.
McClelland’s spokesman told Sydney Star Observer the reforms were likely sooner rather than later and would not depend on remaining states South Australia and Western Australia referring de facto property powers to the Commonwealth.
Greens Senator Kerry Nettle will push McClelland for a specific commitment during Senate Estimates hearings this week and next.
State Attorneys-General gave unanimous endorsement of the reform in 2004, but were rebuffed by the previous Howard Government. Two years earlier High Court Justice Michael Kirby also spoke of the need for equal access to the Family Court. Only the Australian Christian Lobby has opposed the proposed reform since the Rudd Government took office.
Nicholson also weighed in on the need for the federal equality reforms to recognise state-based relationship registers.
Registered relationships should be recognised as a third category, in addition to marriage and de facto, Nicholson said, because to do otherwise would denigrate the commitment of those choosing to formalise them.
It is demeaning for the State and Territory-based formalised recognition of same-sex relationships to simply be regarded as evidence of a federal -˜de facto’ relationship, he said.