In ACT laws, the terms ‘spouse’ has been changed to ‘domestic partner’ to include de facto relationships and same sex couples.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Parliament has made progressive amendments in ACT laws to accommodate the recognition of de facto relationships which may be same sex or heterosexual. Many ACT laws have been amended by the Legislation (Gay, Lesbian and Transgender) Amendment Act 2003 (ACT) and the Sexuality Discrimination Legislation Amendment Act 2004 (ACT). In ACT, de facto relationships may be registered at the option of the couple. Coupled with the legislative amendments, the registration scheme is a clear indication that there is acceptance by the government of de facto relationships.
ACT laws have originally been made for the benefit of married individuals who are heterosexual. Thus, there is a need to amend the definition of spouse to include individuals in a de facto relationship. The amendments that have been made so far were to replace the term ‘spouse’ with ‘domestic partner’. This amendment recognizes the existence of de facto relationships and makes the laws applicable to them too. In fact, the changes were to deliberately include in the coverage of laws heterosexual and same sex de facto partners.
The definition of a domestic relationship is similar to a de facto relationship. Domestic relationship is defined as the relationship between two people, whether of a different or the same sex, living together as a couple on a genuine domestic basis. On the other hand, a de facto relationship is when persons who are not related to each other as family and are not married to each other, live together on a genuine domestic basis.
In the ACT laws that have been amended domestic relationship and domestic partner are the terms used instead of de facto relationship and de facto partner. The difference is that unlike in the de facto relationship definition, the domestic relationship expressly includes domestic partners who are the same sex. Therefore, when the law refers to domestic partner this includes same sex partners.
It is actually simpler to amend the definition of relationships and the beneficiaries rather than rewrite the entire law. After all, it is only the beneficiaries, i.e. de facto partner, that need to be included but the substance, intent and purposes of the law remain the same. Overhauling the entire law would require a huge amount of time, expenses and study that is not absolutely necessary the purpose is only to include de facto couples as beneficiaries.
Unfortunately despite the passing of the Family Law Act 1975, amendment of federal laws and the society’s recognition of de facto relationships, discrimination is still prevalent against same sex couples. There are still some privileges that are not available to same sex couples that are being enjoyed by married and heterosexual de facto couples. Furthermore, not all federal laws have been amended to cover same sex couples.