A new bill that aims to ensure equal treatment for gay and lesbian couples in Australia has been passed by the lower house of the Federal parliament.

The Same-Sex Entitlements Bill now moves to the Senate.

It will remove discrimination against same-sex partners in areas like immigration, taxation, veterans’ pensions and aged care, and follows a bill introduced earlier this year aimed at removing discrimination in superannuation.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland told the House of Representatives that opposition Liberal MPs who claim the legislation will undermine marriage are “simply wrong.”

“It was perhaps disappointing that they went further to suggest that far from removing discrimination against same-sex couples, we should be discriminating in favour of married couples,” he said.

The Labour government had made an election manifesto commitment to reform following last year’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s report.

The new legislation, which effects 19 government departments and amends 68 laws, recognises de facto couples, even if one or both partners is still legally married to someone else.

Some Liberal party critics have accused Labour of legalising polygamy.

In 2004, under former Prime Minister John Howard, federal legislation banning same-sex marriage was passed.

Some had hoped that the defeat of Mr Howard and the Liberals in November 2007 and the election of a Labour government might move the debate about gay marriage forward.

In fact, while Labour has decided to tackle legal inequities between gay and straight couples, it maintains that marriage is only between a man and a woman.