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Equity, choice and inclusion

By Rodney Croome and Wayne Morgan - posted Thursday, 6 November 2008

In a legal version of cultural cringe, some of Australia’s leaders are blindly accepting that Australia’s civil partnership registries are inferior to their overseas counterparts.

Recently, retiring High Court judge, Michael Kirby, equated registering a relationship in Australia to licensing “a dog or a busker”, despite having a more benign view of overseas “civil unions”.

A day later, independent Senator, Nick Xenophon, said his preference is for Australia to adopt a “UK system of civil partnerships”.


In fact the partnership registries which have been established in Tasmania and the ACT, and which will soon open in Victoria, are not only fully-fledged civil union schemes, but some of the best civil union schemes in the world.

A myth often repeated about Australia’s registries is that they are fundamentally different to civil union schemes because the former simply register existing defacto relationships.

This is wrong.

In Tasmania, for example, strangers can conceivably register a relationship if they wished, because there is no requirement to be in an existing relationship. Meanwhile, partners who register acquire a suite of new rights not available to de facto partners, and their existing wills are dissolved by the act of registration. Just as importantly, partners who enter registered relationships do so precisely because they wish to demonstrate a level of commitment not traditionally associated with de facto partnerships.

It is on the basis of this common misunderstanding about partnership registries that Michael Kirby equated them to dog licensing. But again the facts tell a different story.

Civil partnerships, like all important life events, including births, deaths and marriages, are registered on a register, by a registrar in a registry. In reality civil unions and registries are synonymous. Both allow couples to formalise and solemnise their relationship and thereby obtain the same rights as married couples.


It is on this basis that other countries recognise Australia’s registries as civil union schemes.

Furthermore, the distinctions that do exist between Australia’s registries and other civil union schemes favour the former. Australia’s schemes tend to recognise a wider range of relationships, including non-sexual partners, and they have optional ceremonies. This allows ordinary people to decide for themselves which of their personal relationships is the one that would best benefit from official recognition. It also allows partners to decide for themselves how this recognition occurs.

Some will opt for an official ceremony in front of friends and family. Others will prefer simply to sign an official form to secure their rights, because their relationship requires no-one else’s validation.

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About the Authors

Rodney Croome is a spokesperson for Equality Tasmania and national advocacy group, just.equal. He who was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003 for his LGBTI advocacy.

Wayne Morgan was a consultant to the Tasmanian Attorney General when the Tasmanian law was drafted. He is a Senior Lecturer at the ANU, College of Law.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Rodney Croome
All articles by Wayne Morgan

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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