It amazes me that in Australia, in 2006, we need to hold an inquiry into the rights of same sex couples. We live in what is essentially a tolerant and inclusive society, so one has to wonder why people like my partner Andreas and I are still waiting for equality.
In every way but one, Andreas and I are an ordinary everyday middle-aged couple, living lives just like those of all the people around us. Thirteen years ago we actually proved this to the Australian Government, in a 60-page application for Andreas’ permanent residence visa. In the years since, our lives have become even more closely intertwined.
We’re productive members of society. We’re both employed, so we contribute to society with our taxes, and our work contributes to the organisations that employ us. We serve the community in other ways as well. Andreas has been part of the University of NSW Health in Men Study since its inception. I’m a Justice of the Peace, and a first aid officer.
We participate in the lives of our extended families as a couple - indeed my nieces and nephews all think of Andreas him as an uncle and address him that way.
We’ve been together for 19 years, and like every couple we’ve had the opportunity to share some incredibly joyful times, and supported each other through painful ones. We fully intend to spend the rest of our lives together, and our commitment to each other is deep, genuine and ongoing.
Just like our straight friends we contribute to the life of our society, our families and each other. Just like our straight friends, we have a relationship, expressed by living together, which is utterly lawful.
Yet we continue to face arbitrary discrimination in a number of areas, almost all of them because our Federal Government refuses to recognise our relationship.
My submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry lists some of our concerns: the unequal application of the Medicare Safety Net, and the definition of spouse in the Income Tax Assessment Act which excludes us from provisions like superannuation splitting. Our inputs to the system are the same as those of comparable opposite-sex couples, yet we get less out of it. Every single one of these instances of discrimination is a nasty reminder that we are not equal.
It’s not as though the government gives us a choice in these matters. We can’t opt out of the Medicare Levy or superannuation. Given that we are compelled to be part of the tax, Medicare and superannuation systems, it’s reasonable to expect that - having contributed at the same rate as everyone else - we’ll get the same benefits. But we don’t.
We believe that forcing us to contribute to a system which discriminates against us is just plain wrong.
One example from the aged care system underscores the spitefulness in this discrimination: where a member of an opposite-sex couple is incapacitated and requires nursing home care, the family home is not counted in the means test for an accommodation bond. But if one member of a same-sex couple requires residential nursing care, that person’s share of the family home is treated as an asset. This means if one partner becomes incapacitated, the other would have to sell the house to pay the nursing home bond.
There is likely to be plenty of time to fix this problem before it affects us, if ever. But it’s happening to other couples right now.
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