Austria’s Justice minister today released draft legislation that will grant lesbian and gay couples the right to register their relationships.

The proposed “registered partnerships” will be put before the country’s Parliament by the end of this year.

The Social Democrats (SPÖ) won the most seats in the January 2007 election but not enough to rule outright.

They entered into a “grand coalition” with the conservative ÖVP, or People’s Party.

SPÖ Justice minister Maria Berger’s proposed new partnerships law will be considered by a bipartisan working group.

The People’s Party announced earlier this month that it would support civil unions similar to those in Switzerland.

Ms Berger said that her proposals were separate from marriage, though registered partners will share many of the rights of married couples.

Austria has provided co-habiting same-sex couples the same rights as co-habiting straight couples since 2003, following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights

Adoption rights will not be extended to gay couples in today’s proposals.

Predominantly Roman Catholic, Austria has an equal age of consent and gay people are allowed to serve in the military.

Before today it was the only one of the 15 pre-enlargement EU nations not to have moved towards some legal form of recognition of same-sex partners.