New York based advocacy group Human Rights Watch have urged the Australian government to amend legal provisions that exclude same-sex partners from the definition of ‘spouse.’

HRW also called for an end all discrimination against lesbian and gay people’s children and families.

Australia’s new Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) report was presented to the federal parliament last month listing the 58 laws that need to be changed to grant gay, bisexual and lesbian Australians equal rights.

HRW has written to Prime Minister John Howard and opposition leader Kevin Rudd asking him to take action on the HREOC report.

John Howard has said last month that despite a new opinion poll showing 71% of Australians favouring equal rights for gay people, he is still opposed.

“We are not in favour of discrimination, but of course our views on the nature of marriage in our community are very well known and they won’t be changing,” Prime Minister Howard said in an interview with Sky television.

Howard is due to stand for re-election at the end of this year.

In 2004 he passed federal legislation banning same-sex marriage and earlier this year said that HIV positive immigrants should not be allowed into the country.

Other politicians welcomed the recommendations to equalise treatment for an estimated 20,000 same-sex couples in tax, pensions, old age care, health benefits and insurance.

“We’ve got to be looking at all Australians equally and I think there’s room for reform in that area because they pay taxes and we shouldn’t discriminate against our fellow countrymen,” federal Liberal MP Don Randall told reporters.

The audit of federal laws and their impact on same-sex couples and their children was undertaken by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

“Howard’s government claims that it is ‘defending marriage,’ but in reality its policies hurt families,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch.

“The government’s own human rights commission has confirmed that denying equal rights can damage and divide same-sex couples and their children.”

The commission’s report found that same-sex couples and families get fewer leave entitlements, less workers’ compensation, fewer tax concessions, fewer veterans’ entitlements, fewer health care subsidies, less superannuation and pay more for residential aged care than opposite-sex couples in the same circumstances.

The report traced this pervasive inequality back to how lesbian and gay couples are excluded from federal law’s definitions of couples, partners and spouses.