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Australian state laws may help same-sex partners

Gemma Pritchard December 4, 2007
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Gay and lesbian couples in Victoria, Australia will be able to register their relationship to gain easier access to entitlements under laws tabled in parliament, a government adviser has said.

The Victorian government announced in April it would establish the Relationships Register for people who were not married and were in a committed relationship.

According to AAP, Attorney-General Rob Hulls said although the register would not facilitate gay marriage or civil unions, it would be a practical tool for unmarried couples to have access to entitlements.

Under existing laws, couples may be required to provide evidence to prove their relationship, for example, in medical emergencies or to access property and life insurance entitlements.

Mr Hulls said: “The Relationships Register will offer conclusive proof of a relationship with one certificate.”

He added that the register was aimed at removing discrimination against same-sex and unmarried couples: “These reforms provide that Victorian laws, in most cases, treat de facto and same-sex couples in the same way as married couples.”

Couples will have to register with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

“By registering their relationship, people will be able to access their entitlements without having to prove repeatedly that they are in a committed relationship.”

To register, couples need to be in an exclusive relationship, be 18 years of age or older, live in Victoria and be unmarried.

“The register enables couples who want the dignity of formal recognition of their loving relationship to register it, and to have the security of knowing that their decision to commit to a shared life with each other is respected in Victoria,” Mr Hulls said.

The bill will be debated when Parliament resumes in February.

Mr Hulls also introduced laws allowing de facto and same-sex partners of judicial officers to receive a partial pension if their partner dies.

Last month, Australia’s long-serving conservative government, headed by John Howard, lost in the Australia election to the Labour party, led by Kevin Rudd.

Howard was notoriously unsupportive of gay rights, which were a theme throughout the run up to the election.

The announcement of a general election prompted evangelical groups in the country to begin campaigning against gay equality.

The Labour party took the line that marriage is for heterosexuals only, and would grant legal concessions to homosexuals, but not the legal status of marriage.

“On the institution of marriage itself, our view is between a man and woman and it’s just been our traditional, continuing view,” Mr Rudd said in October.

When asked if in the future this position would look as closed-minded as racist beliefs of the past, Mr Rudd said it was what he believed in.

However, Labour will support changes to the law to remove inequities in the tax and benefits system that discriminate against same-sex couples.

A report in June by Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) recommended that 58 laws need to be changed to grant gay, bisexual and lesbian Australians equal rights.

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