Page 5464 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 16 November 2011

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MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Minister for Territory and Municipal Services and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (8.15): I am pleased to rise in the debate this evening to add my voice to an important motion and amendments which seek to recognise that fundamental principles of equality and of removing discrimination are important in the context of relationship recognition and the application of the civil law of marriage.

It has long been the Labor government’s policy to afford the same legal protections and status to those members of the gay and lesbian community who are in loving, caring relationships as those enjoyed by any other couple—the legal protection they need and deserve when making the choice to express their commitment through a legally recognised marriage. This government remains committed to its policy to enable two people, regardless of their gender, to enter into a legally recognised marriage. The ACT has a proud history of working towards the promotion of equal marriage rights. Supporting this motion is just one of the steps we have taken to uphold these vital principles of human rights and anti-discrimination.

The ACT has led the way in recognising same-sex relationships within Australia. The ACT adopted the Civil Unions Act in 2006 that allowed two people, regardless of their gender, to enter into a legally recognised partnership here in the ACT. Of course, as members would know, the Civil Unions Act 2006 was overturned by the commonwealth government in 2006, using its executive veto powers, which were then existent in the Australian Capital Territory (Self-government) Act.

In 2008 this government introduced a bill that became the Civil Partnerships Act 2008, after the 2006 act was quashed. That bill demonstrated ACT Labor’s continuing commitment to the legal recognition of same-sex relationships. While the current ACT Civil Partnerships Act provides a way for two people, regardless of their gender, to enter into a formally recognised relationship, it cannot attach the same rights and obligations as those attaching to marriage. In this respect, our act does not deliver substantive equality. It represents an outcome negotiated with the commonwealth at the time.

I am pleased, of course, that the individual discretion exercised by the then commonwealth Attorney-General, the coalition Attorney-General, Mr Ruddock, is no longer available to the commonwealth. On 1 November this year, as members would be aware, the federal parliament adopted historic laws significantly strengthening the legislative rights of the ACT and the Northern Territory when it comes to the laws for those territories. The passage of that legislation means that individual federal ministers no longer have the power to unilaterally veto territory laws. Territory laws can now be overturned only if both houses of federal parliament agree to quash a territory law.

As the Chief Minister has stated previously, this change in the federal law represents progress for the ACT and is something that we should acknowledge. However, it has not affected the ACT’s current laws on same-sex relationship recognition. It is time for the commonwealth to reconsider the operations of the Marriage Act, where marriage is defined as only being between a man and a woman, and to address the issue of discrimination within the act so that all Australians can be treated equally.

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