CIVIL unions for same-sex couples officially came into affect again in Queensland this week, three months after state parliament passed legislation for it.

After a three-year absence from when it was stripped back under the former Newman LNP government, the Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015 passed easily through Queensland Parliament 64 votes to 22 on December 3.

A spokesperson from the office of Attorney General Yvette D’Ath has confirmed there was a 10-day waiting period after applying, and that ceremonies could be conducted at the Brisbane Registry Office at the Magistrates Court.

The spokesperson also said that as of 5pm on the first day of civil partnerships, March 22, no one applied.

“I’ve been told celebrants can fill out forms and become notaries quite quickly – within a matter of days,” the spokesperson told the Star Observer.

“If they are not celebrants, it does take longer as various checks have to be carried out. We have had a number of celebrants apply on the first day to become notaries and we hope to register them by the end of this week.”

According to the Attorney General’s office, the basic procedure allows new Queensland couples two ways to register their civil union. This includes making a civil partnership declaration and then having the relationship registered by the state Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages, or by applying to the registrar to register their relationship without making the declaration.

Before the declaration, the couple must give notice of their intention to enter into a civil partnership to a civil notary and the registrar, should the latter not be the civil notary. (Click here for full details)

Registering in a civil union provides a same-sex couple with proof and recognition of their relationship under Queensland law.

According to the Brisbane-based LGBTI Legal Service, while precedents will help clarify some complicated issues, there are legal nuances and practical realities with the re-introduction of civil unions for couples in the LGBTI community:

Beneficiaries: A civil union is a registered contract, making your partner a super or any other beneficiary is clear, but a de facto relationship may have to prove a relationship exists.

Wills: Same as a marriage. Anything can be contested, but there’s a fairly solid legal standing. In the separation situation and the civil partnership was formally terminated, it’s just like a marriage’s divorce. If a will has not been rewritten, any gift to an ex-partner is revoked automatically, so there’s no need to rewrite it. That said, in a de facto it differs — there’s a risk all the assets may go to the ex-partner if the will is not rewritten.

End of Life Decisions: In a civil union there’s a better standing to carry out your partner’s wishes without interference than a de facto.

Funeral Preparations: A civil union is formal evidence of a relationship since it’s registered in the same way as a marriage — no huge difference in the legal point of view. A partner’s family can’t interfere.

“I’ve seen some clients come in who just lost a loved one and were not allowed by the partner’s family and even excluded from the funeral and everything related to it,” said Emile McPhee of the LGBTI Legal Service.

“The partner’s family treated them even less than a friend although they’ve been together over 10 years.”

Cemetery Plots: Civil unions allow the wish to be buried together just as if they were a hetero-married couple. It has the same standing as a marriage, even if your partner’s family causes drama and intervenes wanting to put your partner in the family plot.

Hospitals: Civil unions affords the same privilege as a marriage. When visitation is only allowed in the event of a critical accident by the next of kin, doctors usually trust your word. However if pushed for proof, it’s easier to prove your relationship in marriages. They offer the option of taking the same surname — all that’s needed is showing your driver license or other ID. In a civil union with different surnames, a certificate may be required as proof. There is no equivalent in a civil union for name changing as in a marriage. In a civil union, a separate formal legal name change process with additional legal fees would be required.

Divorces: Both civil partnerships and marriages are handled similarly. If the civil union sours, you’ll need to terminate it, as there is no “divorce”. Assets are dealt with same as a marriage or de facto under the Family Law Act. The relationship’s combined assets may be divided with some possessions legally lost in the split. Pets are considered assets, not a shared custody.

Reception Hall Rentals: A business is required to serve all customers per the Anti-Discriminatory Act on the grounds of sexuality. The business may argue they won’t rent based on religious grounds, but even a religious organisation is on shaky ground. The same applies to a bakery refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Taxes: Neale Harris of Nash Accounting said the Commonwealth recognised same-sex de facto relationships and marriages in the same fashion since July 2009 when it came to taxes, Centrelink, social security and family assistance benefits. A civil union won’t see any difference in declaring spouses for tax purposes as anyone in a genuine domestic relationship as a couple on your tax return. Centrelink will take into account a partner’s income before dispersing any benefits.

Although civil unions in other Australian states are recognised, the Queensland legislation may need to be updated so it acknowledges civil partnerships from other states.

For example, overseas civil unions registered in New Zealand, the US or UK have no auto-recognition in Queensland. There is no ability for Queensland law to recognise another country’s documents, they require registration.

Until Australia recognises civil unions at a federal level, a Queensland civil partnership is only legally valid in Queensland and the other Australian states recognising it. If visiting another state that doesn’t recognise it and an accident occurs, the spouse’s family may possibly override an End of Life decision and disallow the partner’s wishes.

For legal advice on Queensland civil unions for same-sex couples, contact the LGBTI Legal Service

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