30 April 2008
By Michael Perry
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will remove almost 100 discriminatory laws preventing gay couples from sharing financial and social entitlements enjoyed by married and defacto couples, such as superannuation and pension death benefits.
But the legislative overhaul, to occur when the Labor government sits for its first budget session in May, will not change marriage laws to include gay marriages.
“The government believes that marriage is between a man and a woman so it won’t amend the marriage act,” Attorney-General Robert McClelland said on Wednesday in announcing the changes.
“But in all other areas that we’ve identified, the issue of discrimination against same-sex couples will be removed,” McClelland told reporters.
McClelland said the law changes, an election promise when Labor came to power in November 2007, should be fully introduced by the middle of 2009.
The law changes will affect tax, superannuation, social security, health, aged care, veterans’ payments, workers’ compensation and employment entitlements.
“Importantly, the reforms will also ensure children are not disadvantaged because of the structure of their family,” McClelland said in a statement.
Presently, gay couples have little or no rights to superannuation or pension death benefits if a partner dies, unlike married and defacto couples. The children of gay couples have little or no rights to such benefits if their parents die.
Tax benefits such as the dependent-spouse tax offset, housekeeper tax offset and invalid relative tax offset are not available to gay couples. The law changes will also affect labor laws that restrict gay couples from applying for carers’ leave, compassionate leave and parental leave.
But gay rights campaigners said discrimination against gay couples would not be fully eliminated until same-sex couples were allowed to legally marry.
“Until there’s full equality in Australian law, for same and opposite sex couples, discrimination continues, prejudice continues and we can’t allow that as a nation,” said Rodney Croome from the Australian Coalition for Equality.
“Gay and lesbian Australians will not be fully equal until we are allowed the right to marry the partner of our choice.”
(Editing by Valerie Lee)