The federal government has refused to give gay war veterans the right to leave their pensions to surviving partners, despite a demand from the United Nations that Australia do so.

Last Thursday both the Coalition and Labor voted against amending the Veterans Bill to recognise same-sex relationships. Democrats senator Brian Greig, who introduced the proposed amendment, said it was unacceptable and embarrassing that Australia still refused to recognise gay couples under federal law.

The government readily calls on gay and lesbian defence force personnel to fight and even die for their country, but treats their relationships and surviving partners with contempt and disdain, Greig said.

A year ago a UN Human Rights Committee said Australia must grant same-sex spouses of war veterans equal treatment with opposite-sex spouses. However, the Howard government said the committee is not a court and its views are not binding.

The UN became involved when Sydney gay man Edward Young lodged a formal complaint in 2002 about the government’s refusal to allow him a spousal pension following the 1998 death of his long-time partner and World War II veteran, Larry Cains.

In June this year the government claimed Young did not provide sufficient evidence of his 38-year relationship with Cains and did not prove Cains’s death was war-caused. They said sexual orientation was not a factor in refusing Young’s pension under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act.

But Young refuted any suggestion he failed to provide evidence of their relationship and that Cains’s death was not war-caused. His death was caused by smoking -“ he started smoking when he was in the army. And smoking as a cause of death for a war veteran is acceptable in the pension scheme, Young said.

Equal Rights Network spokesperson Rodney Croome said the government had shown its true colours following their decision this week. While their commitment to same-sex superannuation reform had appeared promising earlier this year, it was clearly just a fig leaf to cover its shame over gay marriage and not part of any broader conservative reform agenda.

Croome said if Labor wants to win back LGBT community support and be an effective opposition on human rights, it has to drop its current LGBT rights strategy of all or nothing and start pushing whenever and wherever it can.

Now’s a good time because it only has influence in the Senate for another six months, Croome said.

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