Most of the Coalition has no problems with civil unions for same-sex couples, but it is up to states and territories to enact such schemes, according to federal attorney-general Philip Ruddock.
Ruddock made the comments on ABC Radio yesterday when asked about the five Liberal backbenchers who were recently calling for federal civil unions.
I think most of the Coalition would say that if a person wished to enter into a civil union, as distinct from a marriage, and they can be conducted in accordance with the law of the states, we have no problem, he told Radio National Breakfast.
Ruddock said while the federal government had power in relation to marriage, it had no power over civil unions. That belonged to the states.
If the states wanted to refer a union power to the commonwealth I guess they could do so, but they haven’t. The question of whether or not there are civil unions is a matter for the states and territories, he said.
While the Marriage Act had been amended to block gay marriages, Ruddock believed there were Coalition members who were concerned that people should not be disadvantaged in their other arrangements, whether they’re matters relating to superannuation benefits or employment, a range of other factors where we seek to ensure that people are not discriminated against or disadvantaged.
Ruddock’s comments came four weeks after Prime Minister John Howard said while he didn’t support civil unions, he was strongly in favour -¦ of removing any property and other discrimination that exists against people who have same-sex relationships.
NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor, David Scamell, welcomed Ruddock’s comments, saying they gave impetus for us to push for reforms in key areas like superannuation and the Medicare safety net.
But the issue of whether the gay and lesbian community wanted civil unions had yet to be answered, he said.
The Lobby was about to undertake a state-wide consultation process to find out if same-sex couples wanted to be recognised by marriage, civil unions or partnership registration.
Scamell said the NSW government was unlikely to act on the civil unions issue in the near future, especially as same-sex couples were yet be granted parenting rights or have their de facto relationships recognised as marital status for anti-discrimination purposes.
The office of NSW attorney-general Bob Debus did not return the Star Observer‘s calls before deadline.
Ruddock also spoke about the government’s decision to obstruct an Australian man living overseas from legally marrying his partner in Amsterdam.
Australian Peter Kakucska has lived with his Austrian partner Markus Muehlmann in Vienna for the last 12 years. As foreigners wishing to marry in the Netherlands require proof they are not already married in their country of origin, Kakucska approached the Australian embassy in Vienna for a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage.
The Australian government refused to issue the certificate, Ruddock said, because as well as stating that the applicant was not already married, it also stated that such a marriage would normally be recognised as valid in Australia.
After Kakucska explained the situation to the Amsterdam City Hall, however, they allowed him to get married on 14 November last year.
Kakucska told the Star he was contemplating taking legal action against the federal government on the grounds of discrimination.
The Australian government refused to issue me a legal document based on my sexuality. I have been treated as a second class citizen, he told the Star.
I am in the process of speaking to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. I am also talking to lobby groups and various international gay and lesbian groups, he said.
I want my marriage to be recognised in Australia. If we choose to make Australia our home I expect Markus to be treated like any other foreign national wed to an Australian citizen.