The Premier of Victoria has announced that his government will institute a register for gay and lesbian couples by the end of 2007.
The proposed register will also be used by unmarried heterosexual couples and two people in a long-term “care-giving” relationship.
Steve Bracks announced that the state government will introduce legislation similar to that already in place in Tasmania.
Mr Bracks, who has been Premier since 1999, has previously blocked gay marriage legislation.
The opposition Liberal party said they might support the register as long as it does not “undermine” marriage.
“It is a register system where you apply through births, deaths and marriages with a statutory declaration for a register for your relationship,” Mr Bracks told Southern Cross radio.
“It eases the pressure on continual proof, for example if you have an accident and somebody is in intensive care, obviously those proof arrangements are difficult.
“I think this step removes any legal impediments and makes sure the law works equally no matter what your situation.”
Proof-of-relationship certificates will be issued and the courts and all government departments and agencies will recognise them.
The register would be similar to a model already at work in Tasmania.
There same-sex couples can achieve legal recognition by applying to a government authority.
Other rights in Tasmania include pensions, wills, property division and the adoption of step-children.
Full adoption by same-sex couples is only legal in the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia.
It is not yet known what exact rights the register in Victoria will allow for.
In the past, Premier Bracks has blocked attempts to allow civil partnerships in the state. This register is thought to be a compromise.
In March 2006, independent Victorian MP Andrew Olexander proposed a private member’s bill which was promptly dropped.
The federal government of John Howard has been consistently opposed to gay rights.
The Australian constitution was amended in 2004 to define marriage as between a man and a woman:
“Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.”
A 2006 poll said 52% of Australians believed that same-sex relationships should be recognised through marriage or civil unions, while 37% disagreed.