The ACT government will consider legalising same-sex marriage, Chief Minister Jon Stanhope announced this week.

Stanhope released a discussion paper on Monday which outlines various ways of legally recognising same-sex relationships in the Capital Territory.

The paper examines three different models -“ marriage, civil unions and registration -“ and calls for community submissions on which form the government should adopt. Submissions close 19 August.

We want every citizen in the ACT to feel their rights are acknowledged and respected. It’s only logical that we would pursue the issue of formalising same-sex relationships, Stanhope told Sydney Star Observer.

Stanhope’s Labor government, now in its second term, has a history of progressive law reform.

During its first term the party conducted an audit of all ACT legislation and removed every piece of law which discriminated on the basis of sexuality. This included allowing gay and lesbian people to apply for adoption.

And the ACT Liberals are talking too, with Territory opposition leader Brendan Smyth telling ABC News his party was willing to discuss same-sex relationship recognition.

Stanhope said he understood why groups such as the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby were against state-based marriage and civil unions, as they were not recognised under commonwealth law like heterosexual relationships.

But I think the contrary argument is that in an environment where the federal government has expressed its blunt opposition to any recognition for gay and lesbian relationships, it’s appropriate that the state and territory governments move some way down the path of according community recognition of relationships.

Is that not a significant milestone on the path to generating or creating some greater equality? I think it is.

He said the response to the discussion paper had so far been surprisingly muted, but he was keen to ensure the community debate didn’t get ugly.

Nor has he had a response from his colleagues in federal Labor, who supported the federal ban on same-sex marriage passed last year -“ a decision Stanhope said he did regret.

Gay and lesbian rights activists welcomed the release of the discussion paper. It’s the next step forward in law reform for LGBTI people in the ACT, said Nerida Cole, spokesperson for Canberra’s gay and lesbian lobby group Good Process.

Cole planned to organise a community forum in Canberra to discuss which of the three models Good Process would push for.

Should we push for state-based marriage? Do we want to go down the path of offending the Christian lobby and generating more opposition, when we could get the same legal rights by having a registration scheme or civil union scheme? she said.

Australian Marriage Equality’s national convenor Luke Gahan was delighted to see a government in Australia -¦ sitting down and discussing all the options for same-sex relationship recognition.

Tasmanian activist Rodney Croome said Stanhope’s initiative took the debate beyond the material benefits of relationship reform towards acknowledging the importance of symbolic reform and towards acknowledging a diversity of relationships.

Stanhope has put the issue of same-sex relationships on the agenda at the next national meeting of Australia’s attorneys-general in July.

He wants to discuss a uniform approach to the recognition of same-sex relationships.

Stanhope hopes to introduce relationship recognition reforms before the end of the year.

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