Page 1758 - Week 05 - Thursday, 8 May 2008

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Gay and lesbian Canberrans are part of our community. We are not nameless, faceless people who live on the margins of society. Gay and lesbian Canberrans deserve the respect and dignity afforded to others; we deserve equality. This bill affords us equality under the law.

This equality is not only functional and practical but also highly symbolic. It allows us to hold our heads up high as equal members of the community and to celebrate our relationships. It is about dignity.

Symbolism counts. Legal recognition of a ceremony will not award a gay couple greater taxation benefits or access to a partner’s superannuation but will send a clear message that their union deserves to be celebrated, just as does a heterosexual couple’s. And the key debate with federal counterparts is all about symbolism.

There is not essentially a great difference between the Tasmanian relationship register and ACT civil partnerships. Both provide for legal recognition of a relationship between two people, regardless of gender. The difference is that that Tasmanian registry was never designed to be a step towards awarding same-sex couples symbolic recognition of their relationships. It is much more focused on practicalities. In the ACT, not only do we want to make life easier for same-sex couples when it comes to things like finance, we also want to symbolically recognise and celebrate their choice to make a commitment to each other.

But successive federal governments will not have a bar of it and will not let us celebrate unification between two people of the same sex, apparently because it threatens the institution of marriage. What federal counterparts are yet to define is in what manner a marriage between two heterosexual people is threatened by the celebration of a homosexual civil partnership. The federal Labor government cannot and will not answer this question because it is embarrassed to admit that it would rather stay safe in the minds of the homophobic than support homosexuals’ rights.

In 2006, many Labor representatives called out Mr Howard on this aspect of his politics, but it seems pretty quiet today when it comes to Mr Rudd. Back in those days, our Chief Minister, Mr Stanhope, said he was willing to take High Court action if the federal government attempted to overturn civil unions legislation. What has happened since then, Mr Stanhope? Why have you given up?

For the past two ACT elections, the Labor Party has committed to introducing civil unions legislation, which I assume includes legal recognition of ceremonies. I wonder: with the coming election, will the ACT Labor Party maintain this as part of its platform?

The government conflict over civil unions has increased my concern about the impact of wall-to-wall Labor governments, due to their enthusiasm for cross-border legislative harmony. We are often told that the ACT government is not proceeding on a matter because it is waiting for a ministerial committee agreement or it must go backwards to meet lower national standards.

In the case of civil partnerships, we are seeing the federal government set the standard as to what can constitute acceptable recognition of same-sex partnerships by requiring

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