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Australian civil unions

Civil unions at a state / territory / municipal council level:

Australia currently allows same-sex couples to enter civil unions in the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales.

The Federal Government recognises these state and territory civil unions for the purposes of federal entitlements.

These civil union schemes are only open to residents of the particular state or territory which provides them. They are only beginning to be recognised by other Australian states or territories. Some other countries, however, do recognise Australian civil unions, for example, the United Kingdom.

Additionally, the City of Melbourne and Yarra City Council in Victoria and the City of Sydney in New South Wales provide relationship declaration programs. More information is provided below under respective state headings.

Civil unions at a federal level?

The provision of civil unions, whilst ensuring couples have access to most relationship entitlements, should not be confused with full legal equality.

A number of courts around the world have ruled that schemes separate from marriage cannot be equal to marriage. Most recently, the California Supreme Court ruled on 15 May 2008 that giving the unions of same-sex couples a name that was separate and distinct from marriage reduced gays to “second-class citizens”. Studies in the US and UK also show that civil unions do not deliver the same legal security and social recognition as marriage.

Australian Marriage Equality supports Australia’s state-based civil union schemes as a method of extending relationship entitlements to couples who cannot or choose not to marry. However we reject the notion that a national civil union scheme instead of civil marriage can deliver equality.

Further reading on civil unions:

Civil union schemes operating in Australia:

Tasmania

Australia’s first civil union scheme was introduced by Tasmania and commenced operation in January 2004.

The Relationships Act 2003 provides for the registration of a Deed of Relationship with the Tasmanian Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Registration of a Deed of Relationship allows immediate access to relationship entitlements as well as a means of proving the existence of a relationship if challenged.

Since November 2009 couples entering Deeds of Relationship have been able to have an officially-recognised ceremony at which their Deed of Relationship certificate is bestowed on them by a celebrant and from which time their new legal relationship commences.

In 2010 Tasmania recognised interstate civil unions and became the first state to recognise overseas civil unions and same-sex marriages.

Visit the Tasmanian Department of Justice website for more information.

The website of Relationships Tasmania has further information.

Australian Capital Territory

The Civil Partnership Act 2008 commenced on 19 May 2008.

There are four options for entering an ACT civil union:

1. Deputy Registrar-General witnesses statutory declaration, endorses and registers application (Counter – no bookings required)

2. Deputy Registrar-General endorses and registers application (Statutory declaration witnessed by other qualified person) (Counter -no bookings required)

3. Deputy Registrar-General conducts commitment ceremony, witnesses statutory declaration, endorses and registers application (Pre-ceremony interview required – Booking required)

4. Deputy Registrar-General attends commitment ceremony, but only endorses and registers application (Booking required)

The ACT recognises interstate civil unions.

For further information on entering a civil union and the consequences of doing so, see the ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety website.

Victoria

The Relationships Act 2008 was passed by the Victorian Parliament in April 2008 and came into effect on 1 December 2008.

Couples are able to register their relationship with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and have that relationship recognised under Victorian law.

Victoria does not allow official ceremonies or recognise interstate unions.

Two local councils, Melbourne and Yarra, have also introduced relationship registers. Although they do not confer legal rights in the way a marriage does, they allow couples to make a written declaration that they are mutually committed to sharing their lives together. See below for further information.

Victorian Relationship Register

City of Melbourne

Yarra City Council

New South Wales

NSW established a civil union scheme in early 2010. It allows couples to register their relationship with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. It recognises interstate unions but does not allow for official ceremonies.

The City of Sydney Relationships Declaration Program recognises both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. Although registration does not confer legal rights in the way a marriage does, it allows couples to make a written declaration that they are mutually committed to sharing their lives together. Couples have the option of holding a ceremony to celebrate their declaration.

Further further information, visit

NSW Relationships Register

City of Sydney.

Queensland

Queensland established a civil union scheme in early 2012. It allows couples to register their relationship with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. It allows for official ceremonies.

Further further information, visit:

QLD Births Deaths & Marriages.