Another small victory for LGBT equality in Australia has been won with the announcement that same-sex partners in the state of New South Wales will have the right to decline to give evidence against their partner in court.

The change from “de facto spouse” to “de facto partner” is intended to be gender neutral, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

A spokesman for the NSW Premier pointed out that the Commonwealth, or federal government, is the only jurisdiction in Australia that declines to recognise same-sex couples in this way.

“(Attorney General) Philip Ruddock is refusing to incorporate this definition into the Commonwealth version of the Uniform Evidence Act,” said spokesman Justin Kelly.

The change to the law will come into effect in NSW in early 2008.

Mr Ruddock and Prime Minister John Howard are facing re-election later this year. Their government has proved hostile to recognition for same-sex couples and passed federal legislation in 2004 banning same-sex marriage.

Earlier this year Mr Howard proposed that HIV positive immigrants should not be allowed into the country.

“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,” Mr Howard said in an interview with Sky television in June.

In August the federal government announced plans to prohibit gay couples adopting from abroad.