Lesbians couples who conceive through IVF or sperm donations will be jointly recognised as parents in NSW.

But other recommendations from a NSW Law Reform Commission report released on Tuesday, including a same-sex relationship register, have been refused.

Amendments to the Status of Children Act will retrospectively extend heterosexual parentage presumptions in IVF to lesbian couples, but will not apply to gay male couples or children from adoption, surrogacy or heterosexual sex.

As well, nearly 50 NSW laws will be amended to extend existing legal definitions – including parliamentary benefits and disclosure obligations – to include same-sex couples.

Anti-discrimination laws will be updated to include unlawful discrimination on the basis of domestic status that may arise from compulsory disclosure of a same-sex relationship.

Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said the new laws would enable both parents to sign consent forms for hospitals and schools and would protect children’s inheritance rights.

Female de facto parents will have a responsibility to protect and provide for their children, just like everyone else, Hatzistergos said.

He said the Government was not pursuing surrogacy and adoption reforms because of the complexity of an existing parent having to relinquish rights.

Hatzistergos dismissed calls for a NSW relationship register, saying he preferred a Commonwealth-run scheme, but did promise further examination of existing models.

The Law Reform Commission recommended the register as an acknowledgement of the propriety of same-sex relationships and the civil rights of the people in them.

It may therefore have a positive role in correcting or, at least, reproving homophobia, the report stated. Current constitutional arrangements prevent the State of NSW from doing more. But it is as much as it can do. It is not correct, therefore, to say that the availability of registration is a second-best response to the legitimacy of gay and lesbian relationships. It is, in fact, the best the State can do. And the State should do it.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Peter Johnson said the NSW gay and lesbian community deserved the register.

With other states moving towards implementing relationship registries, the NSW government should be actively seeking to implement a similar scheme that is consistently recognised across Australia, he said.

The commission began investigating gaps in relationship law in 1999 and finished the report two years ago. Only two weeks ago the Government refused SSO‘s request for a copy of the report on the grounds it was to be tabled in parliament.

Senior Labor MPs Verity Firth and Carmel Tebbutt used the renewed media attention to call on Premier Morris Iemma to intervene.
Labor MLC Penny Sharpe, a parent in a same-sex relationship, called the reforms a step forward, as did Lobby co-convenor Emily Gray.

Whilst the Government should be commended for finally taking action on recognising lesbian co-mums, the proposed reforms will leave a lot of our community out in the cold, Gray said.

If the Attorney-General is serious about protecting the rights of children, then he needs to ensure that all children in our community are covered by the new reforms.

This is not an issue about the parenting rights of gay men versus the parenting rights of lesbian women. It is a fundamental issue about the wellbeing of our children and our families.

Family law practitioner and lesbian mother Mary Cunningham welcomed the law change, saying court parenting orders were the only current option for same-sex families.

The unfairness is that you have to go off and see a lawyer, whereas straight couples get it automatically, she said.

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