A-G vetoes gay Family Court access

A-G vetoes gay Family Court access

Same-sex couples will not be included in plans to bring the Family Court into line for non-married people, if federal attorney-general Daryl Williams has his way.

At an attorney-generals’ meeting in Cairns last week, Williams called for the states to hand over control of de facto property disputes to the Family Court -“ but only those cases involving heterosexual couples.

The Family Court currently hears property disputes from married couples, while de facto and same-sex couples have to take their claims to state-based Supreme Courts.

All state attorney-generals protested against Williams’s exclusion of same-sex couples in the proposed reforms, but Williams refused to compromise.

Since the meeting he has not been drawn into debate on why same-sex disputes would not be included, nor why they were better heard in the Supreme Court. Williams’s media staff did not respond to requests for comment before the Star’s deadline.

Victorian attorney-general Rob Hulls has been one of the most outspoken against Williams’s exclusion of same-sex couples.

This is just a 1950s, myopic, homophobic view of the world, Hulls told the Star.

We want all de facto couples to have access to the Family Court, because it’s easier and more affordable. [But] you can’t continue to perpetuate the prejudice that already exists against the gay and lesbian members of our community.

Hulls said if the Victorian government was to support Williams’s proposal, it would fly in the face of anti-discrimination legislation.

I’m urging the federal government to educate itself about the real world. [Williams] needs to understand what a modern, democratic, caring country is all about.

Hulls’s NSW counterpart Bob Debus has also questioned the legality of leaving same-sex couples out of the equation.

For all practical purposes the federal government is trying to force NSW to break its own anti-discrimination legislation, Debus said.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Anthony Schembri said Williams’s decision to ignore same-sex couples was incredibly disappointing, but not surprising.

We know the Family Court is geared up to deal with these matters. The Supreme Court is one of the higher courts, it’s less easy to access, often more expensive and can drag out time for settlement, Schembri said.

So we definitely believe going to the Family Court would be helpful. But this is mostly about equality.

Schembri said while it was positive to have the unified support of all state attorney-generals, the meeting proved to be a wasted opportunity.

The federal government continues to deny gay and lesbian couples equality. They continue to treat gay and lesbian people as different.

But many states have laws that recognise same-sex couples, and the sky hasn’t fallen. The earth hasn’t cracked -“ nothing bad has happened.

The states will prepare draft legislation -“ including same-sex couples -“ and present it to the next meeting of attorney-generals in Fremantle in November.

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