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Australia: Civil Unions or Registered Partnerships?
By Craig Young
4th May 2008 - 12:55 pm

At the moment, Australia seems to be finally catching up with the rest of the core Commonwealth countries through introducing substantive relationship equality reforms.

There's just one slight problem - what about ceremonial and formal recognition of relationships? Should it be same-sex marriage, civil unions or registered partnerships?

What's the difference? Well, same-sex marriage would involve amending marriage law to remove any limitation to two people of opposite sexes only getting hitched. Civil unions involve the creation of a parallel institution with parallel ceremonies and parallel rights and obligations, in a secular as opposed to religious context. Registered partnerships involve signing up to those substantive rights and obligations without the brouhaha, tuxedo or wedding dress or reception or accommodation or wedding party or transport costs, as there is no parallel ceremonial marker.

Here's the crux of the current Australian problem. Some diehard LGBT relationship equality activists want the immediate repeal of the federal legislation that banned same-sex marriage per se outright. They're not willing to consider civil unions as a necessary incremental step, as we did. Others want to emulate Britain and New Zealand and institute their own civil union legislation, as in the Australian Capital Territory. However, the Rudd administration wants to dispense with the rigmarole and parallel ceremonies and introduce registered partnerships.

Personally, I'm agnostic about ceremonial markers to celebrate civil unions. Isn't substantive spousal equality what is needed here? The Rudd administration does deserve some credit for its genuine concern for the inequities that face lesbian, gay (and in some cases, straight) couples as a result of current disparities in relationship recognition. Strangely, it seems to be the case that almost everyone accepts the justice of substantive relationship recognition, apart from a few leftover Howard era dinosaurs like the Sydney "Anglican" (sic) Diocese, Fred Nile and the likes of the Australian Christian Right.

However, although I commend the Rudd administration's commitment to substantive relationship equality, what about the ceremonial and ritual aspect? I'd have to ask Kevin Rudd to consider that to many religiously inclined LGBT couples, some form of ceremonial recognition is an important faith-relatedevent that marks the solemnity and commitmentof their relationship.

Civil unions provide parallel rites and ceremonies to deal with that, rather than risking premature direct confrontations with some heterosexuals over same-sex marriage.

Civil unions are not same-sex marriage. They are an intermediate compromise.

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