Prime Minister John Howard has voiced his support for attorney general Philip Ruddock’s plan to overturn the ACT’s new civil union legislation.

On Tuesday ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope introduced the legislation which would give same-sex partners the same rights as married couples.

Stanhope said the bill would be debated in parliament in May and could be made law as soon as June.

But this week on ABC radio Ruddock said the federal government would intervene unless the bill was changed.

He said the legislation elevated civil unions to the same status as marriage, which was contrary to the federal government’s ban on same-sex marriage.

For a territory to say, ‘Well that’s fine for the Commonwealth Parliament to have resolved in that way, we’re still going to assert that a civil union is a marriage in all but title, and we’re going to use marriage celebrants to demonstrate that’ -“ let me make it very clear: that will not satisfy the Commonwealth, Ruddock said.

Prime minister John Howard has also voiced opposition to the bill in its current form.

It provides for a ceremony and it presumes the availability of [federally licensed] marriage celebrants, The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Howard as saying.

That seems to me, and I think it will seem to most Australians, to be marriage by another name.

Howard said the federal government would not allow marriage – between man and woman – to be undermined by the same-sex civil unions bill.

Stanhope conceded he may have to amend the bill.

Mr Ruddock needs to be asked what is his real concern about the ACT legislation, Stanhope told the ABC.

What is his real concern about my commitment to remove discrimination and to show respect to same-sex relationships? And one has to pose the question of whether or not the real reason is that there is no place in John Howard’s Australia for homosexuals.

In January Ruddock went on the record to say the federal government would not oppose civil union legislation, saying it was a matter for the states and territories.

Gay rights activist Rod Swift, of Australian Coalition for Equality, accused Ruddock of hypocrisy on the issue.

Swift said allowing same-sex couples to solemnise their unions would reinforce, not diminish, the legal and social status of marriage-like relationships.

The claims that marriage will be hurt by same-sex couples are a hysterical red herring, he said.

Same-sex couples don’t hurt marriage, just like de facto heterosexual couples don’t diminish marriage.

The Stanhope Government’s proposal is about bringing stability and security to relationship of all couples, something which social conservatives should embrace and support.

Stanhope’s legislation states that while civil unions are not marriage, they will be treated equally with marriage under all ACT laws.

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