Kicking A Lion

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Australia moves to give rights to gay couples

SYDNEY: Australian lawmakers have passed new laws giving gay and lesbian couples many of the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts but have ruled out legalizing same-sex marriages.

After a low-key debate late Monday, the Senate passed amendments to around 100 family, health and taxation laws that give same-sex couples access to the same services as opposite-sex couples living together in “de facto,” or common law, relationships.

Among the major changes, gays and lesbians will be allowed to get family benefits under the state-run health care program and to leave their retirement benefits to their partners if they die. The changes also confer parental rights on gay and lesbian couples with children.

While the laws give same-sex partners many of the same rights and protections as married couples, they stop short of allowing gays and lesbians to wed under the Marriage Act, which was redrawn by the last conservative government to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

When the governing Labor Party unseated its conservative rivals in 2007, it did so in part on a promise to end discrimination against gays and lesbians. But party leaders have said that pledge does not include a push to legalize same-sex marriages.

“It won’t be part of this government’s agenda,” Attorney General Robert McClelland told the national broadcaster on Tuesday. “The Labor Party policy is firm that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Only a handful of countries recognize same-sex marriages, including Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Spain. Around 20 other countries recognize some form of civil union for same-sex partners.

In Australia, civil unions are recognized in only two states – Victoria and Tasmania – and the Australian Capital Territory, the area around Canberra.

The introduction of the new laws provoked little dissent in Australia, where discrimination against gays and lesbians is generally low. The debate Monday was opened by the minister for climate change and water, Senator Penny Wong, who is openly gay.

The changes passed without opposition through the Senate, with support from both major parties. The laws now go before the Labor-controlled House of Representatives, where they are expected to pass without controversy.

“I think the most successful aspect of the passage of the legislation is just how noncontroversial it’s been,” McClelland said. “I think the Australian community thinks it’s something that should have been done – and should have been done a long time ago.”

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Written by kickingalion

November 25, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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