The Labor Party has said that if elected it would move to have nationally consistent, state-based relationship registries. Labor says that the scheme would be based on the Tasmanian registry which has been running successfully now for nearly four years. It is thus important for people to understand how this registry might work.
In Tasmania, any two Tasmanian residents who are adults and not already married or in another registered relationship can register their partnership. They do not need to cohabit or be in an existing relationship. The benefits of registering are that the couple is granted immediate access to the same rights as married couples under state law and a guarantee that these rights will be acknowledged and respected.
The registry is open to partners in heterosexual, companionate and familial relationships, as well as same-sex couples. As the identity of registered couples is protected by law, any couples who register but are not necessarily “out” publicly will be protected.
The paperwork and the costs for entering and exiting a registered relationship are virtually the same as marriage. Registered couples receive a certificate called a Deed of Relationship. An official ceremony is not required to enter into a registered relationship, although some Tasmanian registered couples have their own ceremonies when they sign for, or receive, their official Deed of Relationship.
In Tasmania, couples may be presumed to be in a significant relationship, and have associated relationship rights, without registering their relationship. But such “de facto” rights are harder to access and easier to challenge in the absence of a Deed of Relationship. The Tasmanian registry is different from municipal registries like Sydney’s which are symbolically important but do not offer the wide range of relationship rights and entitlements found in state law.
Tasmania’s registry was designed specifically to formalise the unions of partners who can’t or don’t wish to marry. It is also available to a much wider range of relationships than marriage or marriage-like civil unions. A relationship registry is not a watered-down substitute for equal marriage, nor is marriage an ideal registry. When the two forms of relationship recognition are available, they will provide same-sex couples with a choice between different but equally valid paths to partnership rights.
Tasmanian Deeds of Relationship are not yet comprehensively recognised in federal law, although they can be used to help prove the existence of a relationship in areas like immigration and defence force benefits. Countries like Britain automatically recognise Tasmanian registered relationships as civil unions with full marital rights.
The Victorian Government is committed to establishing a registry this year. With the Labor Party’s promise to bring the scheme in nationally, it may not be long before NSW has one also. For more information on the Tasmanian registry visit www.relationshipstasmania.org.au.

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