Page 5411 - Week 15 - Tuesday, 8 December 2009

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The government is determined to ensure that this very significant step forward, the passage of the Civil Partnerships Amendment Bill earlier this year, comes to fruition. We want to see it maintained and we want to see those reforms available to gay and lesbian couples for many years to come. Therefore, the government has taken the decision to hear the commonwealth’s arguments and weigh the negative effects against the positive. In balance, it is clear that the gains that remain for the recognition of civil partnership ceremonies far exceed the impact of the commonwealth proposals reflected in this bill.

There would be little sense, in the government’s mind, in risking these major reforms and this major advance for the sake of some relatively minor concessions to put to rest the commonwealth’s concerns. The practical effects of the amendments are quite simple. The first is no effect unless registered. Clause 4 of the bill amends section 6A of the act in relation to civil partnerships entered into by making a declaration. Under the amended section, it will still be possible for a couple to enter into a civil partnership by having their relationship registered as a civil partnership.

It will also be possible, as before, for a couple to enter into a civil partnership by making a declaration before a notary. Under the amended provision, however, it will also be necessary to register the relationship before it has legal effect. The effect of the amendment to section 6A is that, unlike a marriage, a civil partnership will not be effective if it is not registered. This is a significant concession and one the government would rather not have made because it does highlight the distinction between ceremonies for heterosexual couples and those for gay and lesbian couples.

It is, however, also important to make some observations about the real effect of this amendment. The first is that section 32A of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act already requires the registration of a civil partnership. Section 32AA describes how that is to be done. To an extent, the proposed amendment in this bill to section 6A of the Civil Partnerships Act simply reinforces this existing requirement in the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act.

More important, however, is the fact that registration is an essential part of the public recognition of a civil partnership, keeping in mind the process of entering into a civil partnership is designed expressly for the purpose of conferring legal status on the relationship shared by a couple who may not marry or who do not wish to marry. The practical effect of this amendment on couples will be minimal because the existing provisions of the relevant legislation require them to register the civil partnership already.

The second observation to make in relation to the amendment to section 6A is a considerable concession that has been made by the commonwealth. While section 6A will state that a civil partnership will not be effective unless it is registered, clause 7 of the bill inserts a new requirement in relation to the couple’s notice of intention to enter into a civil partnership.

Subsection 8A(2A) will require the notice to specify the date on which the couple intend to make the declaration of civil partnership. That date is then referred to in a new section 8BA, inserted by clause 9 of the bill. Section 8BA requires the

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