Registers of same-sex partnerships in Australia are set to be introduced, with Tasmania and South Sydney Council both poised to adopt registration schemes in their jurisdictions.
The schemes have drawn mixed responses from gay and lesbian activists. Some have welcomed the initiatives as a beachhead for a gay marriage campaign; others have expressed concern about the proposals for exactly the same reason.
Tasmania’s Legislative Cou-ncil is expected to vote on the Relationships Bill 2003 next week. The bill, which will amend over 100 pieces of legislation which currently discriminate against lesbians and gay men, also includes provision for the establishment of a partnerships registration scheme. Tasmanian gay activist Rodney Croome told Sydney Star Observer that the registration scheme provisions were considered one of the least controversial aspects of the Relationships Bill.
Although the bill passed Tasmania’s House of Assem-bly by a 22-3 vote at the end of June, Croome said the result in the Legislative Council was really touch and go.
While the lobbying of MLCs continues in Tasmania, South Sydney Council will pursue its own partnership registration scheme following a 7-2 vote last week in favour of a motion by Labor deputy mayor, Peter Furness.
The registration scheme, which is based on a model used by the Greater London Authority, would be open to heterosexual and homosexual couples living in or connected to the South Sydney local government area. It could be operational by the end of the year.
This week, Furness told Sydney Star Observer that council had already received expressions of interest from couples keen to register their relationship under the scheme.
Council is anticipating that up to 200 couples a year will be interested in registering, Furness said.
The Tasmanian registration scheme, if adopted, will grant registrants access to rights such as known child adoption, but the South Sydney Council registration scheme will primarily have a symbolic value.
It is correct to say that there is no legal status attached to the [South Sydney Council] register, in so far as no federal or state law makes any reference to such a local government register, Furness said. But it is also factually correct that there will be legal consequences of registering a relationship, in that people in same-sex relationships are often required to produce evidence of that relationship, and this will be one means of providing that evidence.
Spokespeople for gay and lesbian rights groups in Tasmania and Victoria welcomed South Sydney Coun-cil’s decision, but the New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby were a little more tempered in their response.
The Lobby is always supportive of any initiative that promotes gay and lesbian visibility in the community, said co-convenor Somali Cerise, but this is not high on our priority list.
Community consultation undertaken by the Lobby in the mid- and late 90s revealed that parenting issues, superannuation and reform of the Anti-Discrimination Act were more pressing concerns for lesbians and gay men in NSW, Cerise said. The Lobby would watch community response to the partnership registration scheme with interest, she added.
In contrast, Croome said Tasmania’s gay and lesbian community had supported and endorsed the idea of a registration scheme since the mid-90s.
The South Sydney Council registration scheme was supported by the five Labor councillors, along with Greens councillor Amanda Lennon and Liberal councillor Shayne Mallard.
The Partnership Register sends a strong signal to government at all levels that gay and lesbian couples want legal recognition of their relationships and full equality to married couples, Mallard said in a media statement. Then, in an apparent rebuff to prime minister John Howard’s recent comments that gay marriage would weaken the institution, Mallard argued that the acknowledgment by society of a binding and loving relationship supported a conservative and stable community.
The only two councillors to vote against the Partnerships Registration proposal were Community Independent councillors John Bush and John Fowler -“ the latter of whom is openly gay.
Fowler told the Star that the proposal was appalling grandstanding.
Local government has no reference to this area. It’s a piece of bullshit to get [Furness] in the papers, Fowler said. Councillor Furness should push for a partnership registration scheme at the state level where it can matter, he added.
Peter Furness is doing for local government what The Block is doing for Sydney real estate -¦ turning it into a media circus, Fowler said.
But Furness rejected the idea that local government had no role to play in recognising same-sex relationships.
If you look at how relationship recognition by government has been advanced in other countries, it’s been initiated by local government, he said. Amsterdam had a partnership registration scheme before the Netherlands extended the right to marry to same-sex couples. The same thing happened in the UK, with the Greater London Authority and a number of other councils, and now the British national government has announced that they will look at law reform.
It starts at the local level, Furness said.