Tasmania has become the first Australian state to allow same-sex couples to register their relationships.

The registration system -“ established under the state’s groundbreaking Relationships Act, passed last year -“ had its first day of operation on Friday 2 January.

Tasmanian activist Rodney Croome told Sydney Star Observer he had already received phone calls from gay and lesbian couples in New South Wales who were hoping to register their relationships -“ however the scheme is only open to Tasmanian residents.

I’d like to see a registration system developed in every state and territory, and at Commonwealth level as well, Croome said. I hope that this will create a climate for that.

In the absence of gay marriage, registration is the clearest way for society and government to show they acknowledge and approve of same-sex relationships, he said.

Among the couples who registered their relationships last Friday were Michael Carnes and Bob Lavis, who have been together for 17 years. Croome said the pair were waiting at the doors of the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages at 8:45am so they could be the first same-sex couple in Australia to register their relationship.

Also registering on the first day were Rebecca Wealands and Lee Hyland, a Launceston couple who decided to register because they plan to have children and want to ensure they can both be recognised legally as mothers. Known child adoption rights, which were extended to same-sex couples as part of the Relationships Act, are only accessible to couples who register their relationship.

Some couples are already reaping more than symbolic benefit from the registration scheme. Jason Kemp and Mark White who have been together for two years decided to register as a Christmas present to each other and Jason’s US-based employer has indicated that they will grant him full spousal benefits in the wake of the registration.

The applicants -“ who paid $122 to register their relationship and a further $31 for a certificate -“ will receive their certificate of registration after a 28-day cooling off period.

With South Sydney Council poised to commence its own partnership registration scheme next month, the stage is set for 2004 to be a year of much discussion about gay marriage.

I’d like to see this spark a more mature and far-reaching debate about gay marriage -¦ something that’s about more than just the -˜survival of the species’, Croome said.

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