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, 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.
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.
Yes, every step forward is greeted as a positive, measured event. The hypocrisy of denying full civil rights to a segment of society, denying equal opportunity to otherwise law-abiding individuals – is as backwards as any theocracy might be.
Australia may be self-defined as a modern, democratic entity. That’s called denial. Don’t hurt yourself patting your own hairy back!