British consulates in Australian states and territories have begun offering civil partnerships to British citizens in same-sex relationships residing in Australia.

This means British gay men and lesbians can take advantage of the new partnership laws, available in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, without having to fly home to access them.

If one party is an Australian citizen they must produce a Single Status Certificate issued by the state-based Department of Births, Death and Marriages.

A staff member at the NSW Department said Single Status Certificates would be issued to gay men and lesbians, and that an applicant did not have to specify who they intended to marry.

The clarification comes after a story emerged last week the federal government had refused to issue an Australian man with a similar document, a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage, because he intended to marry another man, his Austrian boyfriend, in Amsterdam.

Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock said the decision was made because the certificate stated that such a marriage would normally be recognised as valid in Australia.

The move by the British consulates followed the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act in Britain last month, essentially giving same-sex unions the same legal standing as heterosexual marriage.

The Act is a very significant milestone towards equality, a spokesperson for the British High Commission in Canberra told Sydney Star Observer.

Civil partnerships can be carried out in any country, provided the country has agreed to allow it, he said. Australia agreed.

Interested NSW couples should contact the British Consulate-General in Sydney. Partnerships could also be registered at consulates in Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Registrations would take place inside the British consulates with at least two witnesses present.

The spokesperson said he knew of at least one couple planning to register their partnership on 1 February, and that a number of people had expressed interest.

One couple were very pleased they could do it in Sydney, because they were originally planning to fly to Britain with their two kids, which would have been a fairly expensive trip, he said.

Meantime federal ALP minister Anthony Albanese told the Star he intended to argue the case of civil unions for same-sex couples at the next ALP Conference.

To date the ALP has not announced their official position on the issue of civil unions.

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