First came love, then we lost marriage and now we might just have a shot at civil unions.

National gay and lesbian rights group Equal Rights Network called for the ALP to support civil unions this week, in response to reforms in New Zealand and Canada.

Labor support for civil unions would not only bolster the chances of reform, it would also heal the rifts between the LGBT community and Labor over the latter’s support for the government’s pre-election same-sex marriage ban, ERN spokesperson Jen Van Achteren said.

Lobby group Australian Marriage Equality congratulated New Zealand activists for the Civil Union Bill, which passed its second reading last week with 65 votes in favour and 55 votes against. The AME also praised the Canadian Supreme Court ruling to legalise gay marriage.

National convenor of AME Luke Gahan told Sydney Star Observer the group supported ERN’s call for civil unions, although their group had not given up on equal marriage rights.

The civil union legislation in New Zealand will be able to recognise overseas same-sex marriages, such as from Canada and Holland, and they’ll recognise them as civil unions, Gahan said.

So that sort of legislation is certainly needed in Australia, and if that legislation was put up it would definitely be welcomed by AME. Currently there are no de facto laws for same-sex couples at a federal level, so we basically need any recognition we can have.

The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby have not joined the fight for civil unions, yet, as the new co-convenors David Scammell and Julie McConnell are holding community consultations next year to determine the community’s needs.

During the gay marriage debate [this year] there wasn’t a clear community education about what were the different forms of relationship recognition involved, Scammell told the Star.

There wasn’t an opportunity for gay and lesbian people to be told about things like civil unions or about what de facto would mean -¦ there were a whole lot of issues that really weren’t talked about -¦ it was a case of should we push for marriage or not.

I think the job of the Australian gay and lesbian community is to work out exactly what form of recognition they want, Scammell said.

Scammell said the GLRL would campaign for whatever relationship reform the community most strongly endorsed: de facto, marriage or civil unions.

Spokesperson for ERN Rodney Croome denied that a push for civil unions indicated a change of direction for the coalition of state activists groups, as the ERN had previously supported same-sex marriage (with the exception of the NSW GLRL).

A change of direction would suggest that we have a strategic direction, nationally, as a GLBT community -“ but we don’t. But the ERN has a policy that supports in principle a number of different types of relationship reforms, Croome told the Star.

In my mind it’s not a substitute, it’s a parallel. We should have marriage reform and civil unions, as they do in the Netherlands. And most people don’t think of it that way because there hasn’t even been a discussion about it.

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