Britain, New Zealand and Spain mark civil union and gay marriage milestones this month, a situation activists say is embarrassing Australia.

At least 7,000 British same-sex couples have formed civil partnerships since the landmark legislation took effect last December.

British government figures released last week show 6,516 gay and lesbian couples had formed partnerships in England and Wales by the end of March this year. Gay male couples accounted for around two-thirds of ceremonies.

With about 1,500 partnerships registered each month since the law took effect, and a few hundred partnerships formed in Scotland so far, the British total is likely to have topped 7,000.

New Zealand is also celebrating a landmark in its recognition of same-sex relationships, with more than 500 civil unions registered since the scheme began in April 2005.

Of these, about 200 were between male couples and about 230 between female partners, New Zealand government statistics show. Around 90 heterosexual couples have formed a civil union and two couples have changed their marriage into a union.

Meantime, Spain has seen about 1,300 gay weddings -“ and one gay divorce -“ since same-sex marriage legislation came into effect mid-2005.

The divorcing male couple married in Madrid in October and are now warring over who will gain custody of the former partners’ dogs, Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported this week.

Australian activists say the international progress is a poor reflection on this country’s rights record, including the recent veto of the ACT’s civil unions law.

Other countries are moving forward in small steps or very large steps, and by contrast Australia seems to be actually going backwards, Australian Marriage Equality spokesperson Sharon Dane told Sydney Star Observer.

Dane is a UK citizen who formed a British civil partnership with her partner Elaine Crump at the Consulate-General in Brisbane last month. She said Australia’s unwillingness to recognise oversease unions or marriages was especially jarring.

For a very brief moment you feel that you’re recognised and then that’s not acknowledged when you walk out, she said.

It’s a real mixture of emotions, it’s frustration, anger and disappointment.

Kelly Pilgrim-Byrne from lobby group Australian Coalition for Equality said the overseas milestones highlighted the federal government’s Straight Australia Policy.

It reflects terribly on Australia and it really does feed into the -˜Straight Australia Policy’ that the Howard government is creating quite successfully at the moment, she told the Star.

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