ACT vows to try again on same-sex union rights

Sydney Morning Herald
June 14, 2006
By David Humphries

THE ACT Government is considering a second shot at legal recognition of same-sex couples after the Federal Government yesterday pulled the rug on a law it says equated civil unions with marriage.

The territory's Attorney-General, Simon Corbell, said the Commonwealth's intervention was arrogant and undemocratic, but there was "only an outside chance" the Senate would overrule it.

"We're therefore considering reintroduction of a substantively same bill, and we'll consider any advice from the Commonwealth," Mr Corbell said.

The Governor-General, Michael Jeffery, on the advice of ministers, yesterday ordered the ACT Civil Unions Act be quashed. The law was passed by the ACT Parliament last month but was still inactive.

"If the ACT has in mind further amendments, they can come back to the Commonwealth," said the federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock.

"There are issues that remain responsibilities of the Commonwealth, and marriage is one of them." Mr Ruddock accused the ACT of provocatively intending to make civil unions "as close as possible to marriage".

While the Commonwealth moved against the ACT, support is building within the Federal Government for a private member's bill intended to outlaw federal discrimination against same-sex couples and inter-dependent couples, such as the infirm and their carers. The bill is planned by Warren Entsch, a Queensland Liberal, who says it differs from the ACT law because it avoids reference to marriage.

Mr Entsch wrote to colleagues setting out how federal law and processes discriminated in access to superannuation, veterans' entitlements, taxation treatment and Medicare. "The Prime Minister has told me he was surprised with the levels of discrimination, and he's got no aversion to removing that discrimination," Mr Entsch said.

The Federal Government had been expected to wait until early August to quash the ACT law, leaving time for same-sex couples to register for civil unions from next Monday and hold ceremonies from June 25.

Mr Corbell said Mr Ruddock should specify the offending clauses so that a second attempt at the law would not also fail. "We made 63 amendments in response to the Commonwealth's initial complaint, but Mr Ruddock refused last week to identify what clauses remained unacceptable," he said.

The Greens and Democrats today will ask the Senate to overturn the intervention, but they appear to lack the necessary numbers.

The Greens' Kerry Nettle said the Commonwealth intervention was hateful but lacked logical explanation. The self-government rights of the ACT had been trampled to deny rights to same-sex couples, she said.

The Civil Unions Defence Coalition, formed in Canberra on Monday, said sovereignty, as well as human rights, was at risk.

"We also believe in the right of the ACT people to live under the laws enacted by their democratically elected government," said its spokeswoman, Mary-Anne Cosgrove.


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