The Democrats have urged the prime minister to stand by his recent statement that he supports the removal of discrimination against same-sex couples.

In a letter to John Howard, acting leader of the Democrats, Andrew Bartlett, said his party would support any such reforms brought before the Senate and called for a Senate inquiry into the best way forward.

On 22 December the prime minister said while he was opposed to same-sex marriage and civil unions, he was strongly in favour -¦ of removing any property and other discrimination that exists against people who have same-sex relationships.

The Democrats would try to hold the prime minister to his word, Bartlett told Sydney Star Observer.

What the Democrats will try to do is draw people’s attention to that statement but also to try to hold the prime minister to it, he said.

The fact he feels compelled to make statements like that -“ and some of the other statements by Coalition people in recent times -“ indicates to me there is a reluctant recognition from many in the Coalition that this sort of blatant discrimination across the board is really unjustifiable.

But he said reforms may be some time coming.

The Democrats’ experience in pushing for this has shown it can take a long time, but people need to not give up, and keep on pushing.

Federal Labor haven’t exactly been playing a strong hand in trying to discourage federal conservatism in this area either. That has made it a lot easier for the Liberals to continue not to move.

When asked for comment on when such reforms might take place, a spokesperson for the prime minister told the Star Observer it was on a list of things to discuss with Howard when he returned from holidays.

A spokesperson for Attorney-General Philip Ruddock also said the matter would be looked into.

Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, the Democrats’ attorney-general spokesperson, said she was shocked by Howard’s comments on removing discrimination.

Yes, given that his politics and policies over the past 10 years in government have been geared towards entrenching discrimination against the GLBTI community and outlawing same-sex unions and marriage, Stott Despoja told the Star.

An inquiry into discrimination was long overdue, she said. The last inquiry was initiated by the Democrats following the introduction of their Sexuality Discrimination Bill in 1995. That bill contained legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or transgender identity.

The bill was debated but never voted on due to a lack of Coalition and ALP support. That inquiry was more than eight years ago now and it was high time for a new one, she said.

Recently, the new Senate -“ with the government controlling the numbers -“ has blocked and quashed a number of important inquiry proposals, so I am not sure this inquiry will go ahead, Stott Despoja said.

I certainly appeal to the Labor Party as well as some of the small L liberals in the Government ranks to support the idea.

Stott Despoja said she planned to introduce a private member’s bill on the issue of same-sex civil unions in the near future.

Five of Howard’s backbenchers recently defied him by publicly announcing they supported civil unions for same-sex couples.

The Labor Party has no official stance on civil unions, although they supported the gay marriage ban in 2004. They have repeatedly promised to remove all discrimination against gay men and lesbians from commonwealth legislation if they won office.

David Scamell, co-convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said the move by the Democrats was very encouraging.

It’s definitely an important tactic for groups like the Democrats to continue applying the pressure to the government to live up to their newfound promise to eradicate discrimination at a federal level, Scamell said.

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