South Australia is to grant a series of rights to gay and lesbian couples. The upper house of the state’s parliament voted in favour of the measures yesterday.

The new law is a major victory for gay rights campaigners in the state. Any two people who live together and present themselves as a couple will be covered by the legislation, regardless of whether or not their relationship is sexual.

Two siblings could also apply for ‘couple’ status under the new arrangements.

Same-sex couples can now share property and financial affairs and take carer’s leave during periods of illness. However, South Australian officials stressed that the bill does not legalise gay marriage.

“Marriage is constitutionally a matter for the commonwealth and it is not affected by this bill,” state attorney general Michael Atkinson told the Adelaide Advertiser.

The federal government under Prime Minister John Howard is strongly opposed to gay marriage, even though all states now grant rights to gay and lesbian couples.

Gay rights activists from the Let’s Get Equal campaign were ecstatic that the new law had finally passed both houses of the state parliament. The government first promised legislation in 2001.

A statement on the Let’s Get Equal website reads:

“This means it’s time to celebrate!! We’ve finally gained some measure of equality in South Australia. Of course, there are still areas of law where we aren’t equal – for example, with regard to adoption rights and reproductive rights. But it’s a start.

“The Let’s Get Equal Campaign would like to thank all those Members of the Legislative Council who voted for this legislation, and especially those who have consistently supported same-sex couples gaining equal rights. You know who you are – thank you all.”

Once the bill is signed by the governor of South Australia, it will become law.