Last edited: April 29, 2004

Australia’s First Civil Unions, December 31, 2003

By Peter Hacker, Newscenter, Sydney, Australia Bureau

Sydney—The last state in Australia to decriminalize homosexuality has become the first to allow same-sex couples to officially register their relationships.

The Tasmanian registration scheme became official as Australian’s welcomed in the New Year. It will allow same-sex couples to gain full access to the medical, pension, care-giver and parental entitlements of heterosexual couples.

When the state Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages reopens for business on Friday, the first couple to sign their commitment form will be Michael Carnes and Bob Lavis.

“What these changes do is send absolute alarm bells to all those who have been discriminatory in the past that those days are well and truly gone,” said Carnes, a gourmet chef, who was forced to leave a job 12 years ago because of his sexuality.

Carnes, 42, and Dr Lavis, 50, have been partners for 17 years.

“We are lucky in that we have always had incredibly supportive families and we are now in a pretty comfortable position, but there are so many young people out there who still face discrimination. Our getting registered is more about the symbolism of being able to take this step; that the discrimination must stop,” Carnes said.

The sweeping reforms passed earlier this year by the state’s Labor Government stand in sharp contrast to Tasmania’s reputation as a place of little tolerance towards same-sex couples, with homosexuality deemed a criminal offence until just five years ago.

The Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, which led the protracted campaign that achieved gay law reform in 1997, said registration was the next best thing to marriage.

“In the absence of gay marriage, registration is the clearest way for society and government to show they acknowledge and approve of same-sex relationships,” group spokesman Rodney Croome said today in a statement.

“This is an important step forward for relationships which have long endured stigma and discrimination.

Croome said that it is time the federal government followed Tasmania’s lead and enacted a national law recognizing same-sex couples.

“Ultimately I’d like to see the Commonwealth also have a national registration scheme for all significant personal relationships, that’s the path down which law reform in Australia is moving and Tasmania is the pioneer,” he said.

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