Vermont -“ marriage; Iowa -“ marriage; Australia -“ state-based relationship registers. The above are three recent developments in same-sex relationship reform around the world. Vermont has now joined Iowa in legalising same-sex marriage, and New York and New Jersey will likely be debating the issue soon.

Last week in Australia, the ALP released its draft national policy platform espousing its support for relationship registers for same-sex couples. Try not to get too excited folks, but I need to inform you that soon, gay and lesbian couples will be able to -˜register’ their relationships with the NSW government.

Despite some murmurs the ALP would take a step beyond relationship registers, the policy confirms it has chosen timidity over leadership when it comes to gay and lesbian equality.

The draft policy states, We oppose all attempts to divide Australians by pandering to prejudice. In effect, it not only panders to but reinforces prejudice and discrimination against gays and lesbians by explicitly opposing national relationship recognition.

Up until now I have been wary of drawing comparisons between this point in Australia’s history with other eras when classes of people were discriminated against. But the government is running out of excuses, and I can’t help but be reminded of segregation.

After the end of slavery, keeping blacks separate from whites in America was justified by the concept of -˜separate but equal’ -“ the thinly veiled rationale that allowed decades of prejudice and discrimination to flourish. Black people were educated in separate schools, had to sit in the back rows of buses, and drank from different water fountains, all under the rubric of -˜separate but equal’.

Not only has the ALP informed us it does not want same-sex couples to have access to the same relationship recognition systems as opposite-sex couples, but our relationship recognition can’t even resemble the real deal.

The draft policy states the ALP will not support any schemes that mimic marriage or undermine existing laws that define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

This is not separate but equal. This is separate and unequal.

Emily Gray is convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.

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