Australian Parliament moves closer to removing discrimination against same sex couples

12 Nov 2008

The Australian Senate agreed to amend superannuation laws to allow same-sex couples to leave entitlements to their partner or child upon death.

It also debated a bill to extend the meaning of de facto partner, child and parent to include same-sex relationships to 68 commonwealth laws.

The legislation will bring long-awaited equality to same sex-couples in areas including tax, social security, health, aged care and employment.

Labor Senator Penny Wong said it was part of the Rudd government's commitment to act on the recommendations of a 2007 landmark report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

"These reforms are about equality, extending the same treatment to persons in de facto partnerships regardless of their sexual preference," she said.

Labor Senator Louise Pratt, whose partner has undergone a sex change, was brought to tears as she relayed the stories of open discrimination.

"It is important to note just how far we have come in achieving support across the parliament with these historic reforms," she said.

"Today is really a very historic occasion."

Liberal Senator George Brandis echoed the sentiment, saying the "historic day" had been a "long time coming".

"When this legislation passes through the chamber ... Australia will have brought to fulfilment a long history ... to embrace and affirm the principles that people should be judged by their merit and by their merit alone," he said.

Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown, who is openly gay, said the social progress that had been made was a cause for celebration.

"For as long as there has been laws written in this country there has been discrimination against people on the basis of their sexuality," he said.

"I've lived long enough as gay member of the Australian community to see enormous changes from the periods when it was a crime ... for male homosexuals to have a loving relationship ... punishable by many years in jail (through) to this day.

"Today we can celebrate."

But not all senator's agreed.

Family First Senator Steve Fielding said the bills threaten the sanctity of marriage.

"Marriage should keep its privilege status and not be undermined," he said.

"It is vitally important to promote marriage and not reduce its status because it is marriage where children get both a mum and a dad."

Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce agreed.

"If you pull down everything else but the term marriage then you have obviously effected what a marriage is ... and how children are brought up," he said.

The Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws Superannuation) Bill 2008 passed the Senate with government and opposition amendments and will now return to the lower house.

Debate on the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws General Law Reform) Bill 2008 was adjourned.

A series of Greens amendments on both bills were defeated, including one to allow same-sex marriage

From 7 news