I had strong doubts about the ACT’s resolve when the idea of introducing a mobile registration bus to its civil unions scheme was floated some weeks ago. The cynic in me immediately started picturing a Magic Rainbow Registry Bus weaving its way from civil union to civil union to the tune of Greensleeves -“ perhaps with a slogan along the side like You’re Different -“ But That’s OK. The whole thing sounded gimmicky and over-complex.

But it seems that having taken hit after hit from the Feds in the negotiations to water down the scheme (if not dump it entirely) ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has decided to shove back -“ and oh how he’s shoved.

Placing the issue of GLBT equality as unmistakably one of international importance by bringing it up in the same breath as human rights in Tibet, Stanhope finally threw down the gauntlet to Federal Labor this weekend.

Even more refreshing has been his no-nonsense approach to naming the real villains here. The evidence suggests the rights of a significant number of Canberra’s men and women cannot be guaranteed by my Government, because of church disapproval. This in a nation [with] a separation of church and state.

With the ACT perhaps the most progressive political canton in the country, Stanhope can afford to. He’s already won one Territory election since pledging civil unions, and it’s only far-sighted moves like this and the small size of the Territory parliament that have kept more Greens from taking seats in its Assemby. With another election this year it only makes sense for Stanhope to press hard now.

Why the fuss over a name? In this fight, terminology is everything. The ACT’s civil unions supply roughly the same rights as Tasmania’s pioneering registry. Rudd’s watered-down registry scheme supplies even less -“ but with national consistency.

The Federal approach has been to promise legal equality while stripping couples of the dignity of both an official ceremony and the recognition of their relationship’s status as a real and solemn union, solely to placate Christians. In comparison the ACT has been about both legal equality and public respect.

The ongoing tussle will not impress gay voters in the rest of Australia who were recently told it was still too expensive for them to get an equal return on their tax dollars even after the Feds halved the estimate of what it would cost the nation. If Rudd wants to be seen as sincere on this issue he had better start some pushing of his own.

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