Law reforms support recognition of diverse families

The establishment of a Relationships Register and equal legal recognition for non-heterosexual couples and their families are among the recommendations of the latest report from the independent South Australian Law Reform Institute, based at the University of Adelaide.

On 2 June 2016, the Institute released a report with 18 recommendations aimed at addressing discrimination against non-heterosexual couples in South Australia, without the need to change marriage laws.

The key recommendation is the introduction of a Relationships Register, which would allow non-heterosexual couples in South Australia to have their relationship recognised under law, including immediate recognition for visitors who have already had their relationships legally registered interstate or overseas.

“South Australia has a proud history of law reform and opposing discrimination but our current laws can operate unfairly when it comes to non-heterosexual couples and their children,” says the University’s Professor John Williams, Director of the SA Law Reform Institute.

“Despite positive incremental changes, South Australia still lags behind other states and territories when it comes to giving equal legal rights to gay and lesbian couples, including recognising both partners as legal parents of their children,” he says.

“These issues were brought to prominence earlier this year by the unfortunate and distressing case of David Bulmer-Rizzi, who died in Adelaide while honeymooning from the United Kingdom with his husband, Marco Bulmer-Rizzi. Although the two were legally married in the UK, their relationship was not recognised under SA law.

“Among the reforms we propose today include measures that would prevent this type of discrimination, by ensuring that non-heterosexual marriages solemnised in the UK and other similar jurisdictions would be automatically recognised as registered relationships under South Australian law,” Professor Williams says.

He says the potential benefits of a Relationship Register extend to both heterosexual and non-heterosexual couples:

“Under the model, all unmarried couples within South Australia could apply to have their relationships legally recognised. A range of safeguards would apply, similar to those applying to couples seeking to be legally married.

“Once registered, couples would enjoy the same legal rights as married couples, including parenting presumptions, access to assisted reproductive treatment and surrogacy, employment and superannuation entitlements, and recognition upon the death of a partner.

“While it may not mirror the symbolism or social status of marriage, a Relationships Register offers a clear legal solution to the otherwise complex and challenging laws governing relationships and parenting in South Australia.”

A Relationships Register is currently in force in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria, and is similar to the civil unions model in the Australian Capital Territory.

This model would be supported by further reforms to ensure that all South Australians can start a family through services such as IVF and altruistic surrogacy, regardless of their sexual orientation or relationship status, provided other safeguards are met.

This report forms part of the Institute’s broader work – at the request of the South Australian Government – to examine laws that discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. The report has been prepared following extensive community consultation and research, beginning with a detailed audit report and including a community roundtable to hear directly from families impacted by the current laws.

A copy of the full report can be accessed here or downloaded free of charge from the Institute’s website.

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