Politicians, activists and same-sex couples have lashed the federal government over its decision to overturn the ACT’s month-old civil unions law, branding the move an attack on human rights and an insult to democracy.
The ACT government announced yesterday it would try to put the legislation into effect within two weeks, in an attempt to beat the federal government’s veto. And federal MPs have vowed to fight the Howard government’s plans in parliament.
But the commonwealth is expected to quash the law even if it is put into effect for a few weeks.
Almost two years since introducing a same-sex marriage ban, the federal government announced this week it would overturn the ACT’s new civil unions scheme, which recognises same-sex and heterosexual relationships.
Federal attorney-general Philip Ruddock said the ACT legislation was a cynical attempt by the [ACT] chief minister to undermine the institution of marriage.
Amendments to the initial draft have not altered the substance of the ACT laws which make it clear that same-sex civil unions are just marriage by another name, Ruddock said.
Ruddock first threatened to block the civil unions bill in March, prompting the ACT Labor government to introduce several amendments, including a paragraph stipulating civil unions were not the same as marriage.
The updated bill became law last month, creating Australia’s first state or territory civil unions scheme.
But it will now be scuppered under legislation allowing the commonwealth to override territory law, probably later this year.
A very angry ACT attorney-general Simon Corbell told Sydney Star Observer the commonwealth override was an affront to democracy.
It is homophobic. There is no escaping it. What they’re saying is people in same-sex relationships are [in] second-class relationships, Corbell said.
We are not equating a civil union with a marriage. We are just asking for equality before the law.
Corbell said the ACT government had extremely limited options to defend its law.
But we will explore them to the extent that we can. At the very least we will be asking the two houses of the federal parliament to disallow any disallowance motion by the governor-general of our law.
Shadow federal attorney-general Nicola Roxon -“ who backed the gay marriage ban in 2004 -“ said she would seek to disallow the government’s plans in parliament.
Federal parliament will be able to block the overrule if enough members agree.
In a rare show of public support for gay rights, federal opposition leader Kim Beazley also slammed the civil unions overrule.
I do not support the commonwealth doing this to the ACT government. I will certainly argue that view within caucus, Beazley told The Age.
Greens senator Kerry Nettle also plans to move a motion against the commonwealth government plans.
John Howard is yet again exposing his homophobic attitude towards some members of our community, Nettle said.
Howard denied the move was homophobic yesterday.
We are not anti-homosexual people or gay and lesbian people, it is not a question of discriminating against them, it is a question of preserving as an institution in our society marriage as having a special character, the prime minister told ABC Radio.
The Howard government has said it would consider a planned private member’s bill from Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch that would tackle discrimination in federal law but not address civil unions or gay marriage.
But activists were quick to attack the prime minister’s remarks about civil unions this week.
It’s terrible and it shows that it’s just another move of the Howard government in its -˜Straight Australia Policy’, which Australians have clearly rejected in polling, Rod Swift from lobby group Australian Coalition for Equality told the Star.
A recent Newspoll showed more than half of respondents supported formal federal recognition of same-sex relationships, Swift said.
Nerida Cole from ACT gay activist group Good Process said the mood in Canberra this week was one of disappointment and anger.
There’s a lot of people out there who are really ticked off that the federal government is going to go out of its way to overturn this, she told the Star.
Lobby group Australian Marriage Equality said the commonwealth’s decision was an affront to human dignity, while NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights co-convenor David Scamell called it inappropriate and homophobic.
And Canberra resident Jennifer Lloyd, who was planning to form a civil union with her partner Glenda, said the federal government’s announcement this week marked a sad day for gays and lesbians.
I actually started to cry when I heard it on the radio, Lloyd told the Star.
I just don’t understand this perception that marriage is going to be in any way jeopardised by this legislation.
Nobody has actually said what is it about a civil union that threatens the whole marriage thing -¦ which just makes me think that they don’t really know, they just don’t want it.