Page 1078 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 3 May 2006

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We also accept the comments made by the Prime Minister and the federal Attorney-General that the government bill does breach, in a number of aspects, the Commonwealth law and is inconsistent with the current federal Marriage Act. The federal Attorney-General has specifically referred to sections 5 and 19 and there are some other sections of the Stanhope bill, which we also find unsatisfactory and problematic—such things like extending unions to people outside the ACT and allowing persons as young as 16 to enter into civil unions with their parents’ consent. No wonder the federal government had a problem with that. Mr Ruddock put out a media release some time ago in relation to this—on 30 March. He began by stating that the Chief Minister had initially said on the ABC that he had gone to enormous lengths at every stage to make the point that civil unions are not marriage and can never be marriage. The federal Attorney-General then, however, suggested that either Mr Stanhope was being duplicitous or he had not read his own legislation, because the federal Attorney-General felt it was very clear that the ACT legislation went further to matters which the commonwealth regards itself as having a direct interest in. He specifically mentioned section 5 of the government’s bill, which states:

A civil union is to be treated for all purposes under territory law in the same way as a marriage.

The federal attorney also singled out section 19 which states as follows:

A marriage solemnised in a foreign country that cannot be recognised as a marriage in Australia because of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cwlth), section 88EA is a civil union for the purpose of territory law.

He made further comments in relation to marriage celebrants. He mentioned section 51 (21) of the Australian Constitution that gave the commonwealth power to legislate in respect of marriage. He concluded by saying, “The federal government strongly supports the fundamental institution of marriage. Our position is that marriage is the union of a man and woman, voluntarily entered into for life to the exclusion of all others. Labor supported recent amendments made to the Marriage Act 1961 to reflect this position.”

He was, of course, speaking of federal Labor. He went on to say that the federal government would oppose strongly any action that would attempt to equate other relationships with marriage or which would create confusion over the distinction between marriage and same-sex relationships. The federal government’s position in relation to this is quite clear and, in terms of his legal basis, we think he is on firm ground.

We do not resile from the fact that we support the position in the federal Marriage Act. Similar positions were taken by other persons in relation to the institution of marriage as such. Why is there a difference? Why does it appear that the Stanhope government is being deliberately combative and provocative with the federal government? There is other legislation around, such as the Tasmanian legislation. It seems that, unlike the Tasmanian legislation, the Stanhope legislation has significant problems.

The Tasmanian legislation was largely supported by all groups in the Tasmanian parliament and the Tasmanian gay and lesbian community were, overall, quite

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