Canberra’s gay-only civil union ceremonies

The civil unions stoush between the ACT and federal governments is on again.

One of the issues has been the ceremony, which the federal government says makes ACT civil unions too like a marriage. According to The Age

This time, the territory assembly amended its laws on the advice of two leading Queen’s Counsels – including the now federal Solicitor-General Stephen Gageler – to answer criticism that the scheme would mirror marriage.

The advice suggests that if civil ceremonies were only open to gay couples, and not heterosexuals, it would be clearer that it did not contravene the federal Marriage Act, which by definition only regulates relationships between a man and a woman.

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said that by making such a change, the territory had removed any federal justification for trying to quash the laws.

So the way to get around a law discriminating against gay people is to pass a law discriminating against straight people. The better solution is to change federal law, but the ACT’s law seems better than the status quo.

Though I have followed this issue for years, I don’t think I really got the significance of the ceremony until I attended a civil union celebration dinner last year. Taking advantage of his rights as the son of a British citizen, an Australian friend living in London had a civil union ceremony there. I attended a dinner in Melbourne for Australian family and friends who could not make it to the UK for the official event.

Of the many receptions I have attended over the years this was the most moving, because until very recently it would have seemed the most improbable. My friend’s ancient granny cheered from her table. His parents were very proud and, I suspect, relieved that it did come to this, after all.

It was a reminder that laws preventing gay marriage don’t just discriminate against gay people. These laws also discriminate against their friends and families, all the straight people who have a stake in gay lives going as well as possible.

5 thoughts on “Canberra’s gay-only civil union ceremonies

  1. LoL. This is very clever. I’m not normally a fan of the ACT government (or even self governance for the ACT) but this is an example of competitive federalism at its best.


  2. The ceremony is VERY important. Even though I’m an atheist, I wanted to be married in a church – a grand and inspiring church – to ensure the occasion was solemn and had the right sense of ceremony.
    Fortunately my bride had a family church that fitted the bill. She had buried her father, godmother and a favourite aunt at this church and had decided that her family needed to have an event to celebrate at this church.
    The bad joke on the day was – three funerals and a wedding. Boom Boom


  3. Good comment Andrew. The ACT govt is probably doing the best it can given the intransigence of the federal govt. It would be nice to see other states/territories following the ACT.


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