Push on for equal gay and de facto couples' rights

By Rick Wallace

January 03, 2008 02:00am

GAY and de facto couples who separate are set to win the same property rights as married couples under the revival of a long-dormant plan for law reform.

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls said he had won commonwealth and state backing for the federal law to be changed to let separating gay and de facto couples access the Family Court to split up their assets.

Mr Hulls said these groups were currently forced to use the state courts to solve disputes over assets, creating significant costs, complexity and delays.

The changes would allow them to resolve disputes in the Family Court - which has jurisdiction over gay and de facto custody disputes - just as married couples do.

The changes would allow the Family Court to adjudicate on the division of assets, including superannuation.

"Why should people be discriminated against in resolving their property disputes simply because they are not married?" Mr Hulls said.

"It's extremely costly for them at the moment. The Family Court is far more accessible, less costly and more user-friendly."

The plan has been up for discussion since 2002, and all states eventually agreed to grant equivalent rights to gays and de factos. But the change was blocked because the commonwealth and states could not agree.

The Howard government eventually agreed to allow the change for straight de factos, but not gay couples.

Mr Hulls - who recently moved to set up a register to legally recognise gay relationships - attacked the discrepancy in a letter to federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland just before Christmas.

Mr Hulls said he believed Mr McClelland was supportive of the changes.

A spokesman for the federal Attorney-General said he had received Mr Hulls's letter yesterday and would consider it.

The Rudd Government went to the election with a promise to amend 58 laws regarded as discriminatory by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, which has called for reforms on property rights for gays and de factos.