In this Alert, Partner Alison Ross, Associate Kathleen Coggins and Law Graduate Stacey Percival discuss the Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015 which proposes to restore provisions in the Relationships Act 2011 (Qld) for couples – including same-sex couples – to hold an official civil ceremony prior to the registration of their relationship.  

The 2012 reform

The Civil Partnership Act 2011 (Qld) introduced civil partnerships and included a number of provisions allowing couples of any gender to hold an official civil ceremony prior to registering their relationship.  Ceremonies were conducted by a registered civil partnership notary and required the couple to make a declaration to one another.  This enabled same sex as well as heterosexual couples to hold an official ceremony to formalise their relationship in the absence of recognition of same sex marriages.

In 2012, the Civil Partnerships and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2012 (Qld) was passed by a differently constituted Queensland Government.  The Civil Partnership Act 2011 was renamed the Relationships Act 2011 (Qld) and the provisions allowing official civil ceremonies were removed.  Further, the terminology of a civil partnership was changed to “registered relationship”.  The changes were criticised in some quarters as it was suggested that the procedural language of the new term trivialised the commitment of the partnership.

The 2015 bill

On 17 September 2015, the Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015 (the Bill) was introduced into the Queensland Parliament which, if passed, will undo many of the amendments of the 2012 reform.  The Bill includes provisions renaming the Relationships Act 2011 (Qld) to its former name, the “Civil Partnerships Act” and amending the term “registered relationship” to “civil partnership”.  Further, the Bill includes provisions reinstating official civil ceremonies.

As at 1 October 2015, the Bill has been referred to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee which is to report to the Queensland Parliament by 17 November 2015.

Moving forward

While the ability to conduct official ceremonies for the registration of civil partnerships, particularly same sex relationships, is significant for many Queenslanders, it is important to remember that the legal rights of same sex couples in relationship disputes, including those involving children, remain unchanged.  Any person, regardless of gender, may have a claim to a property settlement upon the breakdown of their relationship, including upon the breakdown of a same sex relationship.  Presently, same sex de facto couples have the same remedies available upon the breakdown of their relationship as heterosexual de facto couples.

In the meantime, however, pending the proposed plebiscite regarding same sex marriage, the proposed re-enactment of legislation permitting civil ceremonies for civil partnerships, particularly those involving same sex couples, will afford those couples the ability to conduct official ceremonies in recognition of their relationship.