NSW Coalition members have been granted a conscience vote on the NSW Relationship Register legislation.
The Relationships Register Bill 2010 was presented to Parliament last Friday and will be debated in coming weeks.
If passed, it will mean same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples will be registered with and recognised by NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages.
NSW Opposition leader Barry O’Farrell confirmed the Coalition conscience vote to Sydney Star Observer.
“The Liberal Party has a tradition of allowing conscience votes where there is no party line that must be followed,” he said.
“[Conscience] votes reflect the different opinions that exist in the community on these issues. Our party’s tradition has always allowed for individual MPs to cross the floor when their conscience dictates.”
The Keneally Government and gay and lesbian rights groups have urged Coalition members to support the bill.
“We are calling on the Opposition to stand united and back the Relationships Register Bill 2010,” a spokeswoman for the NSW Attorney General John Hatzistergos said.
“Back the bill that will make it easier for unmarried couples who are in de facto or committed relationships to prove their relationship for the purpose of accessing government services, entitlements or records.”
In its current form the bill allows adult couples — where at least one member resides in NSW — to register their relationship. It also provides recognition of couples registered under similar schemes in the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania.
“We hoped any registration scheme would also recognise registrations in other states,” NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby policy coordinator Sen Raj said.
“We are pleased the registration will not place onerous requirements on proving eligibility.
“This is a step forward in relationship recognition. It is not a substitute for marriage equality, but in the interim some tangible recognition is a step forward.
“We have expressed concern over the lack of ceremonial options for couples to have during their registration though.”
Raj also welcomed the Opposition’s decision to allow a conscience vote.
“It is more promising than the Coalition simply opposing the legislation as party policy. Obviously we would prefer if they all supported it, but if not, a conscience vote is better than complete opposition,” he said.
“We would hope [the Coalition] would support equal recognition for same-sex couples and heterosexual couples — all people should be entitled to equality under the law.”