[JURIST] The government of the Australian Capital Territory [official website] on Tuesday introduced revised legislation [press release] that would grant legal recognition to same-sex partnerships but would stop short of authorizing same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. ACT Attorney General Simon Corbell [official profile] introduced the Civil Partnerships Bill 2006 [legislative materials] in the district's legislature, saying that the bill was a result of the ACT government's belief that it is unacceptable "to discriminate against one part of society." The partnership bill was introduced after an earlier civil unions law [legislative materials] was overturned by the federal government [JURIST report] because the law's attempt to equate civil unions with marriage was determined to be unacceptable.
Explaining the differences between Tuesday's Civil Partnerships Bill and the earlier civil unions proposal, Corbell said:
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the term "civil partnership" has been used in preference to "civil union".The Civil Partnerships Bill has been submitted to Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock [official website] for comment, though Ruddock questioned Tuesday why ACT officials had waited to seek his review until after the bill had been submitted to the ACT Legislative Assembly. The ACT is the federal district that includes the Australian capital, Canberra. Under a provision [text] of the ACT Self-Government Act of 1988, the federal government may disallow any ACT enactment within six months. Australia's ABC News has more.
The term "civil partnership" is used to avoid using the language of marriage. The old common law formulation of marriage, which the Commonwealth incorporated into the Marriage Act 1961 in 2004, is that marriage is "the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life". A civil partnership is not a marriage, and the use of "partnership" instead of "union" highlights this difference.
The new Civil Partnerships Bill also does not contain the provision that the Commonwealth apparently found to be so unacceptable, that said a civil union was to be treated in the same way as marriage under ACT law. Instead, the Civil Partnerships Bill provides that a civil partnership is a domestic partnership, a concept already well-established in Territory law.
The Government remains committed to a policy that it went to the electors with in the 2004 election, and that policy is to legislate for two people, regardless of their gender, to enter into a legally recognised relationship. Canberrans in same sex relationships are entitled to have the same rights under the law as other members of the community.