The Queensland Parliament [official website] passed legislation [text, PDF] on Wednesday to legally recognize civil unions between same-sex couples. Queensland [official website] has joined its fellow Australian states of Tasmania, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) [JURIST reports] in recognizing same-sex unions. The bill passed [transcript, PDF] with 47 MPs voting in favor and 40 voting against it. Speaking in support of the bill on the floor of Parliament, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh [official website] declared:
Tonight, the bill that is before the parliament seeks to strike a blow against prejudice and to strike a blow against discrimination. […] [T]hat is what this bill is about: dignity and respect for relationships that are precious in their own right. The arguments we hear from the opposition simply do not hold any weight. The first argument is that somehow this issue is not a priority—that is, that governments should only ever do things that are on the top of the list, that you should never do things that might be important to the minority, that governments should never concern themselves with issues that matter to some people but not everybody. I would argue that the fight against discrimination should be a priority of any government. I make the point that it may not be a priority for every member on the other side and it may not be a priority for every Queenslander, but it is a priority for those people who live with discrimination every single day of their lives.Health Minister Geoff Wilson [official website] expressed his opposition to the legislation on religious grounds, saying that although he supports same-sex rights, his faith prevents him from endorsing civil unions: "I do not believe we should institutionalise and formalise a new type of relationship outside of marriage for couples, whether they are of the same sex or opposite sex." Two weeks ago, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard [official website] called on Australia's Parliament [JURIST report] to vote on whether or not to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Parliament has yet to take up the issue.
Australia historically has had a tumultuous past regarding the legal rights of same-sex couples. In May 2008, the Australian government abandoned a proposal [JURIST report] to legally recognize same-sex civil union ceremonies after the Australian federal government threatened to veto Civil Partnerships Bill 2006 [legislative materials] if it passed the Legislative Assembly [official website]. ACT Attorney General Simon Corbell said that the self-governing territory will now move to legalize civil partnerships without ceremony so that same-sex couples can have access to Commonwealth pensions, tax and social security benefits. The Civil Partnerships Bill was introduced after an earlier civil unions law [legislative materials] was actually overturned by the federal government [JURIST report] because that law's attempt to equate civil unions with marriage was determined to be unacceptable. In April of 2008, the Australian government introduced legislation to amend over 100 federal laws [JURIST report] to remove discrimination against same-sex couples but continued to bar same-sex marriage.