But marriage still not on the agenda

Full legal equality for same-sex de facto couples and their children has come in the Rudd Government’s first year.

Same-sex discrimination in Commonwealth superannuation, social security, veterans’ entitlements, and a range of other benefits and obligations in around 100 laws were swept away this week with bipartisan support.

The historic reforms leave marriage as the only institution or opportunity still unavailable to gay and lesbian Australians in federal law.

Most of the changes will start on 1 January 2009, except access to superannuation death benefits which can be backdated to 1 July this year if discrimination led to missed payments. Centrelink benefit changes will apply from 1 July next year.

The final passage of the equality reforms this week was welcomed by rights advocates from GetUp!, the Australian Coalition for Equality, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and those impacted by the previous discrimination like 80-year-old John Challis who receives a Commonwealth superannuation pension.

-œThis is the best Christmas present my partner Arthur Cheeseman and I have ever received, Challis told

-œThis landmark social reform, fully supported by the Opposition, establishes the Rudd Government’s credentials as a government of social reform and concern for justice and equality in Australian life. Full credit and thanks are due to [Attorney-General] Robert McClelland.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby spokesman Peter Johnson urged GLBT Australians to also thank the many politicians who spoke in favour of the reforms in Parliament.

-œChange does not happen without dedicated parliamentarians who stand up for equality and human rights.

By thanking them, the GLBT community opens a dialogue on further law reform, whether that be civil unions, marriage or federal anti-discrimination protection, Johnson said.

Thirty MPs and senators from the major parties, the Greens and Senator Nick Xenophon spoke in favour of the three reform bills. Family First was the only party to disagree.

Former Queensland Liberal MP Warren Entsch, who championed Challis’s case under the previous government, said he was drinking a glass of red to celebrate.

-œWhen I first started talking about gay rights it made a lot of people in the party room very uncomfortable, but slowly people started to talk about it too. Attitudes have changed, we’re not going back now, he said.

-œIt took people like John Challis to come forward and let me use their names and situations to drive home that this was about civil rights.

Entsch said he and many others still in the parliament continued to have reservations about same-sex marriage and adoption.

Greens leader Bob Brown congratulated the Government for removing -œa great swathe of discriminatory laws against same-sex couples.

-œThis is indeed historic legislation and the government is to be congratulated for it. It means that same-sex couples who love each other and are in a committed relationship will in the main not be denied the opportunities, including those for raising children in Australia, that all other couples who love and are committed to each other have, he said.

However, he wondered when the major parties would show leadership by removing -œinexcusable discrimination in Australian marriage laws, as a number of countries overseas had done, and polls showed the majority of Australians wanted.

-œMarriage is and always has been the hallowing and the recognition by the public and by those who commit to each other of a special relationship by loving people, which is a stabilising factor in society. And if you leave people outside it then society is the lesser because of that, Senator Brown said.

-œIt is one of those issues that will come back to this parliament until the representatives of the parliament catch up with the public aspiration of the people of Australia in 2008, which is only going to become stronger, to remove this discrimination in the years ahead.

Gay community advocates agreed with Senator Brown. Australian Coalition for Equality spokesman Corey Irlam said the job of tackling discrimination would remain unfinished until there was a national law prohibiting anti-gay discrimination, and discrimination in marriage was removed.

However, Attorney-General Robert McClelland reaffirmed that same-sex marriage was not on the agenda.

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