Australian capital delays same-sex unions

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Laws allowing same-sex unions in the Australian Capital Territory are to be delayed after concerns were voiced by the new federal attorney-general, Robert McClelland.

The decision follows talks between Mr McClelland and ACT attorney-general Simon Corbell about the proposed legislation to grant legal recognition to same-sex unions, which was due to come into effect in February 2008.

The discussion came after the previous attorney-general Philip Ruddock tried to block ACT laws, claiming that they were contrary to the federal Marriage Act.

“This means the ACT won’t be able to present its legislation in February,” said Mr Corbell, according to The Australian.

“The Commonwealth (federal) minister indicated he does have concerns with the proposed arrangements.”

In May 2006, the ACT became the first Australian state to recognise same-sex civil unions, but the federal government under John Howard blocked the legislation.

Mr Corbell is now seeking approval of amended legislation which seeks to address the concerns raised by the previous government surrounding language.

Of particular concern was the comparison made in the Act between same-sex unions and marriage.

Prime Minister Keven Rudd has vowed that he will not block the ACT’s attempt at civil union legislation and Mr McClelland has also agreed that blocking would not solve the situation.

“We’re about trying to resolve these things through discussion rather than threats of overtaking,” he said, according to The Australian.

“The reality is that both the ACT and the Northern Territory, that while they’re described as territories…you have to start from the premise of not arrogantly coming over the top to suppress laws that they’ve made.”

He also added that he is now looking at the Tasmanian civil union register as a model for use in the ACT as well as in other states.

“It’s certainly an issue I’d like to discuss with the states and territories,” he said.

“It’s not a bad example as a possible way to go.”

Although the Labour government opposes civil marriage for same-sex couples, it supports giving couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.

Laws regarding sexual activity apply equally to same-sex and heterosexual activity in all Australian states and territories and same-sex relationships are formally recognised.

However, since 2007, same-sex marriage has been officially prohibited at the federal level.