The results from the local council elections held in Sydney recently, which saw the election of a number of progressive independent and party-aligned candidates, has renewed hopes for new council-backed relationship registers across the state of New South Wales.
It is clear that, despite the Federal Government’s pledge to remove most forms of discrimination against members of the GLBTI community, the notion of gay marriage remains some way off. Further, we are unlikely to see much reform at the state level until we have some real leadership in NSW.
The implementation of relationship registers for same-sex couples in NSW at the local council level is likely to provide additional impetus for the other tiers of government to follow suit.
In addition to the symbolic value of local councils implementing relationship registers, same-sex couples derive a number of legal benefits from relationship registers.
Although registering a relationship in a local council relationship register does not change the legal status of a person and confer rights in the way a marriage does, in legal proceedings where the issue of whether a de facto relationship exists is in issue (for example, where someone has died without making a will and de facto status has to be proved to determine inheritance rights), the registration of a relationship can be used to establish the existence of a de facto relationship.
Generally, courts will consider a number of indicia to determine whether two people are in a de facto relationship, including the degree of mutual commitment to a shared life and the reputation and the public aspects of the relationship. Both of these factors may be established where the registration of a relationship has taken place.
It will come as no surprise that the only two councils which currently have functioning relationship registers are the City of Sydney Council and Melbourne City Council. These cities both contain large gay and lesbian communities and the pink vote has proved a decisive factor in recent elections.
However, it is encouraging that councils without a similarly large GLBTI voting block are also considering proposals to implement relationship registers.
This will send an important message to the GLBTI community that we can lead happy and fulfilling lives outside of the inner-city ghettos of Sydney and Melbourne.