We all know how it goes. Boy meets girl. Dinner, movies, moonlit walks. A little while later they move in together. A few years down the track comes the wedding. For better or worse, richer or poorer. A life wholly shared.

It makes sense doesn’t it? Get to know each other, try it out. When the time is right, make a commitment. Unfortunately, this heart-warming sequence will soon be a thing of the past.

Now, Kevin and Co. decide when it’s time for you to tie the knot. Under an amendment to the Family Law Act passed though the Senate on Monday, de facto couples will have the same rights as married couples to seek ‘spousal maintenance’ in the Family Court. This means if you live under the same roof, or have a long term relationship, and break up – it won’t just be the CD collection you’ll be fighting over.

If you move into your boyfriend’s place to save on rent, or date a girl on and off for years, watch out. In the eyes of the law you’re as good as hitched.

The new rite of passage for misty-eyed couples just embarking on the beginning of their relationship won’t be their first holiday overseas, or perhaps buying a fridge together. It will be a trip to the lawyer’s office to sign a co-habitation agreement so you can’t touch each other’s super if it all goes sour.

Tabloid readers thinking of straying might have started thinking twice after picking up their paper today. The Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun warn that the new law applies even if one partner is already married, or simultaneously engaged in multiple de facto relationships. Philandering husbands face having to pay out half their live savings to jilted mistresses, and family lawyer Paul Hopgood warns that a lot of people are in de facto relationships without even knowing it.

The new legislation also devalues the institution of marriage. Why would anyone decide to get married when a de facto arrangement automatically gives you the same rights as a couple who have walked down the aisle and signed on the dotted line?

So why do both the government and opposition think they know better than us when it’s time to commit? Liberal Senator George Brandis argued that the bill “enshrines the principle of the equality of treatment of same-sex couples and de facto heterosexual couples”. This sentiment seems perfectly reasonable – why shouldn’t committed homosexual couples have the same rights to share in their partners assets as heterosexual couples?

But the key has to be deciding to make that commitment. Any couple – gay or straight – should be able to make the decision to share their life together, but the government should not be making that decision for them.

Jessica Brown is a Policy Analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies.

Peter Fray

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