Fewer than 600 gay and lesbian couples have used Victoria’s Relationships Register since it began four years ago and marriage equality advocates claim it’s because Australian couples would rather fly overseas for marriage.

The state’s relationships register was introduced on December 1, 2008 and quickly climbed to almost 180 same-sex relationships within its first year.

As of last week, figures from the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages showed 572 gay and lesbian couples had registered their relationship, eclipsed by more than 900 heterosexual couples who have also used the register.

Australian Marriage Equality Victorian spokesman Carl Katter told the Star Observer the figures showed gay couples wanted marriage over register schemes.

“The overseas experience shows that marriage has a take up rate among same-sex couples that is two to three times higher than other legal unions like relationship registries or civil partnerships,” he said.

“This is because marriage is more widely recognised and understood, and because it means much more.”

The latest census figures show 1,338 gay and lesbian Australian couples had travelled overseas to get married even though Australian governments, except for Tasmania, do not recognise them.

The 2011 census revealed there were more than 33,000 same-sex couples in Australia and Melbourne had the second highest population of gay and lesbian couples after Sydney.

Katter said state-based marriage would still be better than relationship registers.

“The higher take up for marriage occurs regardless of whether that marriage is recognised at a national or state level,” Katter said.

“What matters to many same-sex partners is the ‘m’ word, not which government allows us to use that word… no one writes love songs about getting relationship registered do they?

“If, federally, marriage equality is further delayed, and we see state-based marriage equality in Victoria first, I would confidently say the figures will be substantially different.”

Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Anna brown said relationship registers were still important for gay and lesbian couples.

“The relationships register provides a welcome opportunity to recognise their relationship formally, who would otherwise choose not to marry,” she said.

“It is not a substitute for marriage and provides an important source of documentation and evidence for those couples.

“State-based same-sex marriage would be a welcome opportunity for other couples who want to be able to marry. Marriage is a universally understood concept and overseas examples show it often has higher uptake rates from same-sex couples.”

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