Civil unions and same-sex entitlements

So, for the moment, the ACT’s civil unions legislation lies in tatters on the Federal Parliament floor.

The conflict between socially conservative ideals about marriage and politically conservative ideals about states’ rights* to self-government led to such a tight vote on a Greens’ motion to overturn the Attorney-General’s veto on the ACT legislation that fourteen senators (including the Democrats’ Natasha Stott Despoja – WTF?) stayed away from the session (“paired” so as to not affect the overall vote), and for the first time since Howard came to power a Coalition senator crossed the floor to vote against him, giving Family First senator Steve Fielding the chance to cast the deciding vote.

Various social conservative organisations have had a self-congratulatory reaction to their lobbying of their co-religionist Senators, but they shouldn’t think the issue is over yet.

Obviously the ACT will try again, and attempt to frame their legislation to avoid pressing Howard’s buttons, although the Government argument regarding the last legislation’s so-called flaws with respect to being the proposed civil unions being “too like” a marriage seemed both logically weak and a rhetorical catch-all for any future such legislation. This will take some time however, so when next such legislation comes to the fore it may well be drafted by a State Parliament, which the Federal executive has no legal power to overturn, and thus we might then actually get a full parliamentary debate on the matter.

“WHAT is it that is so offensive to the Prime Minister or to Attorney-General Philip Ruddock about civil unions of same-sex couples? What is it that offends these gentlemen so much that they have used the executive power they have, not the parliament, which is the proper place?” – Senator Bob Brown

There are also broader issues on the backburner regarding the civil entitlements of those in same-sex relationships: today is the last day for submissions to Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) Inquiry into discrimination against same-sex couples regarding access to financial and work-related entitlements.

The laws to be considered by the Inquiry include, but are not limited to, laws dealing with the following issues:
* Workplace leave entitlements
* Social security benefits
* Tax concessions
* Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
* Superannuation entitlements
* Workers’ compensation
* Veterans’ pensions and entitlements
* Parliamentary entitlements
* Judicial pensions
* Inheritance

Some social conservatives, not content to merely have heterosexual marriage protected from the rainbow onslaught, are arguing that a host of partner benefits should not be extended to same-sex partners either, and that this view is not discriminatory but merely just.

This is shaping up to be the next big long parliamentary debate.

*yes, the ACT’s a territory but the principle was still argued

(crossposted at Larvatus Prodeo)

EDIT: Natasha Stott Despoja’s off the hook – she was literally up in the air, circling in a plane which couldn’t land at Canberra’s fogbound airport.



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