Australia's capital is fast-tracking a provincial law to give gay and lesbian couples the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples, an official said yesterday, but the federal government plans to veto the measure.
Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Attorney-General Simon Corbell yesterday introduced amendments to ground-breaking laws passed by his center-left government a month ago which give gay and lesbian couples who hold a civil union ceremony the same legal rights as married couples.
The law originally was to go into effect on Aug. 1, but the amendments expected to be passed late yesterday with bipartisan support by the ACT's Legislative Assembly would make the move effective within three weeks, Corbell said.
Canberra is the only city in the tiny territory but same-sex couples from around Australia have expressed interest in coming to the national capital to be joined in the closest thing to gay marriage that is available in the country.
But the new status of same-sex relationships is likely to be short lived with the center-right federal government announcing this week it would veto the laws from August.
"If the legislation is made void, they will no longer be in a civil union. They will be back to square one and we're advising people of that risk," Corbell told reporters.
"But we do know there are some people within the community who still want to go through with a civil union, simply to exercise a right that our Assembly here in the ACT has granted them," he added.
Prime Minister John Howard's government amended federal marriage laws in 2004 to ensure that only men and women can marry and to head off possible legal challenges from gays and lesbians.
The ACT law states that a civil union is not a marriage, but entitles gay and lesbian couples to the same legal rights within the ACT as a married couple.
Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock was taking advise on how his government should respond to the ACT government's attempt to fast-track same-sex unions, his spokeswoman Charlie McKillop said.
"It just shows their [ACT government's] willingness to play politics with people's lives with these types of stunts while doing nothing to really further the causes of the people that they say they are advancing," McKillop said.
"The government's view is that those people [in recognized civil unions] will still be effectively in a legal limbo and be exposed to the emotional anguish of that once the legislation has been overturned," she added.
Howard said the government wanted to preserve "the special status of marriage" as it was originally intended.
"The fundamental difficulty I have with the ACT legislation is the clause which says that a civil union is different from marriage but has the same entitlements," he told reporters. "It's a little bit hypocritical."