Gay rights activists have criticised the federal government for passing a new superannuation law which does not cover same-sex couples -“ despite assurances that super laws would be made equal.

Attempts by Democrats and ALP senators to amend the legislation to include gay and lesbian couples were voted down by the Coalition last week.

The Superannuation Contribution Splitting Bill gives heterosexual people the option of splitting their super contributions with their spouse in an accumulated fund. Benefits include an increased threshold for the Eligible Termination Payment and Retirement Benefit Limit.

Last year the Howard government introduced death benefits for same-sex couples in private super funds, apparently in an attempt to soften the blow of the federal gay marriage ban of August 2004. The government said more super reforms were to follow.

In that legislation gay and lesbian couples were only referred to as interdependents, a term which also included relatives or carers in co-dependent relationships.

When the super splitting bill went before the senate last week, Democrat Andrew Murray put forward an amendment to add interdependent to the definition of spouse in an attempt to include same-sex couples. The move was supported by Labor.

But the amendment was voted down by the Coalition because they considered the redefinition of spouse would be too far-reaching, a spokesperson for assistant treasurer Mal Brough told Sydney Star Observer.

The definition of -˜spouse’ underlies a range of taxation, deduction and offset provisions in the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA), the spokesperson said. There are more than 57 separate sections which rely on the definition of the term spouse.

Any amendment would therefore have far-reaching and unforeseen ramifications across a wide range of taxation matters.

However, Sydney Labor MP Tanya Plibersek told the Star the government very easily could have drafted the bill to make same-sex de facto couples treated the same way as heterosexual de facto couples, which are included in the definition of spouse.

Plibersek said the community had every right to be disappointed after coalition members last year went around telling the gay and lesbian community they would fix up superannuation.

David Scamell, co-convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said the government’s new super laws once again leave gays and lesbians out in the cold.

It is offensive that this government has introduced further legislation which discriminates on the basis of sexuality, Scamell said.

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