Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Same sex reforms pass the Senate

As I write this, it appears that historic same sex reforms have passed the Senate, which will alter almost 100 pieces of Commonwealth legislation that discriminate against same sex people.

The two bills: Same-sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws- General Law Reform) Bill and the Same-sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws- Superannuation) Bill arise from the efforts of LGBT lobbyists which then resulted in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission report last year Same Sex: Same Entitlements, which recommended changes to 55 Commonwealth laws to remove discrimination.

In a major contrast between the parties at the time of the election a year ago, Kevin Rudd said that he would follow through on the report, but John Howard refused, other than on the issue of superannuation.

On coming to office, the Rudd Government recognised that there were almost 100 laws that needed to change to remove discrimination. The General Law Reform Bill amends 68 laws, altering laws including those delaing with tax, Medicare and Centrelink. The Superannuation Bill alters 14 of those to do with superannuation.

The latter bill needed to be passed, if only the discrimination in the existing law was on show for all to see. Last year it became apparent that the wife of then retiring High Court judge Ian Callinan, Wendy, would be entitled to a pension on Justice Callinan's death, but that the partner of soon to be retiring High Court judge Michael Kirby, Johann, would not- simply because the gay relationship between Justice Kirby and his partner was not recognised. Justice Kirby is due to retire by March 2009.

The Government, at the time of introducing these historic reforms, said that there would be a financial impact on some couples, so that the financial aspects would not be coming into force until 1 July 2009. The impact may be major for some couples. Under existing Centrelink laws, a lesbian couple is not recognised as a "marriage like relationship" with the result that if they have children, one might work and the other be entitled to receive Centrelink benefits- which may well end come 1 July 2009.

The changes also marked an attempted point of differentiation between both Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull when both were trying to be Opposition Leader last time, with saying to their party room that they were in favour of same sex reforms.

The Government has announced a same sex Centrelink hotline to help those couples to take effect in December.

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