Civil unions between same-s*x couples could
now take place in Canberra within weeks after the ACT Government amended legislation to
shorten the notification time for civil unions from one month to one week in
the face of federal moves to override its laws.

The Prime Minister defended the
Commonwealth’s move yesterday.
“I don’t see it in any way as discriminating against homos*xuals, it’s not,
it’s designed to preserve the special status of marriage in our community and
that’s what it’s all about”, he said. “When the Constitution was written, the
founding fathers gave authority over marriage to the Federal Government and at
that stage civil unions, sorry civil unions were not contemplated. It was back
in 1901 and plainly what was intended at that time was that things of that
nature should be within the responsibility of the Federal Government.”

That’s a very narrow constitutional
argument. Quite a lot we take for granted nowadays wasn’t contemplated in 1901
– including plenty of manners and modes regarding s*xuality and relationships.

“I am in favour of removing areas of
discrimination [against same-s*x couples] and we have and I’m quite happy on a
case, by case basis to look at other areas where people believe there’s genuine
discrimination”, the PM says. “But that doesn’t mean that you equate those
relationships with marriage. I think that is a step that the Australian
community doesn’t want to occur, whilst at the same time there are many genuine
areas of discrimination.”

The ACT legislation doesn’t do that. It’s
about civil unions. What’s wrong with that? Why is the Commonwealth acting to
overturn it? Whose lives will suffer if we allow legal
recognition of same-s*x marriages – and how? This is an issue that only excites the
interest of the small minorities that make up the opposing sides of the debate. It simply doesn’t bother the vast majority.
Why? Because formal, legal recognition of same-s*x relationships is a logical
step.

Current relationship laws are the source of
many of the areas of discrimination the Prime Minister is in favour of
removing. Recognising civil unions would remove unfair and unreasonable
disadvantage against same-s*x couples. Governments have little business
interfering in relationships. All they should do is encourage and reward
commitment between consenting adults. That isn’t a matter of gender.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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