THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS MADE CLEAR ITS OBJECTIONS TO THE ACT’S CIVIL UNIONS ACT, AND HAS NOW RULED OUT ANY LAW THAT MAKES A CIVIL UNION LOOK LIKE A MARRIAGE. BUT, OTHER FORCES HAVE NOW STEPPED IN, DETERMINED TO ENSURE STATES CAN MAKE THEIR OWN LAWS. KATE GIBBS WRITES
SAME sex civil unions in the Australian Capital Territory are just marriage by another name, the federal Attorney-General told Australians last week. And from Tuesday night last week, what he termed a “provocative” move to create a statutory scheme for the recognition of relationships was disallowed.
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock put a final veto on the ACT’s Civil Unions Act 2006 last week when he joined Jim Lloyd, Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads at Government House, where the Governor-General made the instrument to disallow the Act.
This move by the Attorney invalidates the Act, and ensures that there is no legal basis for the formation of civil unions in the ACT in the future. According to the Federal Government, marriage is the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, and the ACT Chief Minister’s version of a civil union makes a mockery of this tradition by adopting like characteristics of a marriage, it says.
The Government made clear its objections to the ACT’s proposed legislation, but was not satisfied with the ACT Government’s response, Ruddock said. “Amendments made by the ACT Government did not alter the substance of the laws which made it clear that same sex civil unions were just marriage by another name.”
Though he had been advised that the ACT had requested some amendments to their ordinance, the Executive Council “resolved that the more appropriate course was to disallow the measure”.
“If the ACT has in mind further amendments, they can come back to the Commonwealth with those amendments. But we’ve made it clear that a measure which provocatively, as I have said before, and deliberately intended to make the ACT arrangements as close as possible to marriage — when the marriage power is clearly vested in the Commonwealth — … was quite, quite provocative, and the decision that has been taken was quite appropriate. So, in effect, the ploy of bringing forward the date of operation, and endeavouring to provide for registration [of] civil celebrants, has failed,” Ruddock said in Canberra.
The Labor Party last week became embroiled in the issue, and both Kim Beazley, leader of the Opposition, and Nicola Roxon, Shadow Attorney-General, have made clear plans to disallow the move by the Federal Government in the Senate as soon as possible.
While Labor agreed that marriage should specifically be between a man and a woman, having made that decision as a Parliament several years ago, Roxon said the party does not believe that the ACT legislation “in any way offends the Marriage Act”. She urged the Howard Government to “stop interfering” in the ACT legislative process.
“It is quite unnecessary for [Prime Minister John Howard] to interfere in this way. We believe that caring and loving, committed relationships between two adults should be able to be recognised in some appropriate way.”
Roxon argued the ACT was not being deliberately provocative in the way it has worded this legislation, noting that Tasmania has had a registration system in place for several years that has not been interfered with.
She said the ACT should be entitled to make its own laws, and to choose the “sort of status” same sex couples can be afforded “The ACT has to be able to make laws for themselves, otherwise they are not a self-governing territory,” she said.
The legislation passed in the ACT does not equate civil unions with marriage, she argued. But people will be able to get the same rights and entitlements, such as inheritance laws and not paying stamp duty if they transfer property between partners. “That is the sort of thing long-term committed relationships, people in those relationships, should be able to have those rights,” she said.
“But if you were to equate it with marriage, all of the other plethora of [Commonwealth] entitlements would have to go with it. The ACT doesn’t have any powers to do that — they can’t affect Commonwealth laws. That is an issue that this Parliament will have to deal with in the future. We don’t think the ACT laws have any impact on that.”
Greens Senator Kerry Nettle gave notice of a motion to disallow the move by the Attorney-General. She said she has support from the Democrats, who will co-sponsor the disallowance motion.
“A motion to disallow [Ruddock’s] attempt to quash the ACT civil union law will give Senators the opportunity to justify their support for this hateful act,” Nettle said. “I am hopeful that Senators who are concerned about the human rights of those in same sex relationships and Senators who are also concerned about the rights of the Territories will vote to support this disallowance.”
ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope warned he would lobby his Labor colleagues and Michael Jeffery, Governor-General, to not accept the Howard Government’s decision. “I can make representations to the Governor-General imploring him not to be party to an act that would discriminate against Australian citizens who have a different sexual orientation,” Stanhope told ABC radio.
“I would be gravely disappointed if my federal colleagues in the Labor Party did not seek at least — acknowledging the numbers in the Federal Parliament — to have the disallowable instrument disallowed.
“It is simply not appropriate that Federal Parliament, through its processes, send that signal that the Federal Parliament of Australia believes it’s appropriate to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples.”
Stanhope said he was angry and disappointed by Cabinet’s decision. “The Prime Minister, I believe, is simply using another marginalised, disempowered group for his, I think, quite odious political purposes,” he said. g