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Australia federal government threatens veto of ACT civil unions bill

[JURIST] The Australian government has threatened to overturn a proposed same-sex civil union bill [press release] in the Australian Capital Territory [government website] unless substantial changes are made. The bill, introduced by ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope [official profile], would be the first of its kind in Australia and would grant same-sex couples equality in wills and property [Reuters report]. It would not be valid outside the ACT or affect status under national laws.

Prime Minister John Howard and Attorney General Philip Ruddock say the bill blurs the line between marriages and civil unions and would be contrary to the Commonwealth Marriage Act [text]. Stanhope on Thursday called the government's statements "outrageous" [press release], saying:

The Federal Government has complained that that the legislation now being considered by the Legislative Assembly would create a parity with marriage. Civil Unions are not marriage and I have been at pains throughout the debate to make that point plainly. Legislating for marriage is the province of the Commonwealth, not of the States and Territories. The civil unions proposed for the ACT would, however, deliver functional and legal equality with marriage under ACT law - a fact from which I do not resile for one instant. That is the intent of the law, and that will be its effect, once it is passed.
Under Australian law, territorial legislation can be vetoed by the federal government, but that has not been done since 1997, when Canberra vetoed a Northern Territory bill on euthanasia. The Sydney Morning Herald has local coverage. ABC Australia has more.

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