Let’s hope there’s a dictionary on hand tomorrow when ACT A-G, Simon Corbell, meets his new federal counterpart, Robert McClelland, to discuss civil unions for same-s-x couples.

McClelland wants state-based schemes for recognising same-sex relationships to be “nationally consistent”. What Corbell needs to point out is that “consistency” isn’t the same as “conformity”.

The ACT’s proposed Civil Partnerships Bill is perfectly consistent with the existing Tasmanian relationship registry and a similar registry proposed in Victoria. The legal rights and status granted under each scheme are much the same. So are the criteria for signing up.

If there’s a legally-significant difference it’s that the Tasmanian registry recognises a far wider range of relationships, including those between companions and family members.

But McClelland isn’t worried about that. His concern is a politically and culturally-significant provision in the ACT proposal which allows couples to enter a recognised union through an official ceremony, and not just by signing official documents.

McClelland says he’s against “civil union tourism” that would see couples travel to Canberra for such ceremonies. The easy solution is for him to encourage all the states and territories to include ceremonies in their schemes if they wish. But that won’t happen because tourism’s not really the problem.

Before the election Kevin Rudd made an explicit, written commitment to religious groups that Labor would not support state schemes which allow official ceremonies.

Now he’s caught between that promise on the one hand, and his commitment to co-operative federalism and to ending anti-gay discrimination on the other.

In resolving that dilemma I’d direct our new PM to the yet-to-be-written political dictionary which explains the difference between post-Joh Queensland and post-Howard Australia.

In the former, many people may have been content simply that the old days were over.

In the latter, as Brendan Nelson has so dramatically demonstrated, many people are eager to move forward.