The election of a Labor Government after more than a decade of Coalition rule opens up the possibilities for the recognition of same-sex relationships. When enacted, Labor’s commitment to equal entitlements for de facto same-sex couples across Federal law will be an important step forward. So will the adoption of relationship registries in the mainland states and territories.
But these reforms will inevitably leave some same-sex partners asking why not equal marriage or civil partnerships, especially those who have entered into these legal overseas unions.
There is a danger of the LGBT community erupting into a civil war over this issue, with some dismissing de facto status or Deeds of Relationship as poor substitutes for matrimony, while others argue we should be happy with the practical benefits of these reforms and forget pointless symbolism.
Both would be wrong.
De facto status, relationship registries and same-sex marriage are not substitutes for each other. They serve different purposes for different couples. We need them all.
Some partners wish to involve the state as little as possible in their relationship. They still need the entitlements and protections offered to unformalised relationships through de facto recognition. Some partners want their rights formally recognised and guaranteed by the state, but without the expectations and meanings associated with marriage. A Deed of Relationship is for them.
Then there are partners who want to make the solemn, public, life-long commitment that marriage entails. They should have this choice. Partners in a personal relationship deserve at least these three options when it comes to how their union is recognised and entitled. They do in places like the Netherlands and Canada. Why not in Australia?
By committing Labor to the removal of discrimination against same-sex de facto couples and the establishment of relationship registries, I suspect some party members hoped to defuse the issue of equal marriage. But when the new Government gets around to enacting its reforms you won’t find me saying no way, that’s a sop, it’s marriage or nothing.
My response will be thank you, that’s important, but it’s not the whole deal. And it’s not the whole deal because relationship reform isn’t only about ensuring equality and ending discrimination, as vitally important as these things are. It’s also about providing the greatest flexibility to the most number of couples when it comes to how relationships are legally enfranchised.
It’s about not privileging one type of relationship above another.
It’s about freedom of choice.

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