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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (11 March) . . Page.. 834 ..

In my consultations with Canberra's GLBTI communities I have heard that there were a number of concerns with the government's approach to this discrimination reform. I will deal with these concerns in greater depth in the detail stage, but I will briefly outline some of the problems now.

The legislation inserts into the Legislation Act an overarching definition of domestic partner that will be used to define the meaning of personal relationships for all ACT legislation. Given the extent to which this definition will affect our laws, and in reality our lives, it was crucial that we got it right. The government's original definition was simply that a domestic partnership was "the relationship between 2 people, whether of the same or different sex, living together as a couple on a genuine domestic basis". The definition in the bill is vague and does not provide any solid meaning to members of the public who read it. Secondly, it is restrictive, requiring that two people must live together in order to be recognised, something that is not required of people who marry. The definition in the legislation does not reflect the reality of the relationships of many people in the ACT.

One objective I would like to see this Assembly achieve is to ensure that we are not prescriptive in how we recognise the relationships of our community. The ACT Democrats do not believe that it is the role of government to dictate how people should conduct their personal lives, and we should not be writing laws that fail to recognise the diversity of human relationships, regardless of gender.

It is a key principle of liberal democracy that governments allow their citizens the right to make their own decisions about how to organise their personal lives. The definition as it stands may restrict choices about living arrangements if a couple wishes to be recognised under this law, whether they are of the same or different gender.

A second concern with the government's original proposal is its treatment of transgender and intersex people. Our system of law has historically been very poor at serving those who do not neatly fit into the categories of male and female. The idea that there are two exclusive categories of gender has been challenged quite comprehensively in the last few decades, and there is a growing realisation that this black-and-white way of thinking about people is no longer a real representation of the world. We need to alter our laws to remove this narrow view of gender and begin to write legislation that does not reinforce this narrow view.

One issue in dealing with intersex and transgender people in the legislation is that there appears to be a temptation to force them into categories of male or female. This is definitely not the approach we should be taking. Instead, we should be trying to rewrite our statute books to take into account the full scope of gender or, where appropriate, to remove references to gender altogether.

We need to realise that transgender and intersex people are two entirely different groups that need to be recognised as such. The bill before us lumps these people together without considering how inappropriate this might be. A transgender person is someone who identifies differently to their gender of birth, and there is increasing evidence that

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