Page last updated at 05:49 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 06:49 UK

Australia to improve gay rights

By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

File image of two men holding hands
The government wants the changes to take place by next year

The Australian government has announced plans to remove about 100 laws it says discriminate against gay couples.

The laws include those preventing them from benefiting from financial and social entitlements.

But the government will not include any changes to the Marriage Law to pave the way for gay marriage.

Gay and lesbian groups have said there will not be true equality in Australia until people are allowed the right to marry their partner of choice.

Pension rights

This is a wide-ranging legislative overhaul, much bigger in scope than the new Labor government had originally predicted.

When it announced its intention to eliminate laws which discriminated against gay couples, it thought there would be about 50.

In fact, there are double that number, affecting entitlements such as social security, pensions, veterans' payments, health, taxation and workers' compensation.

Presently, for instance, gay couples have little or no rights to pension payments if their partner dies, unlike married or de facto couples.

Similarly, the children of gay couples have little or no rights to such benefits.

The government promised to remove these discriminatory laws by the middle of next year - at an estimated cost of over A$370m ($346m, 176m).

But its refusal to reform the marriage act to legalise gay marriage has angered many gay and lesbian pressure groups.

The government continues to believe that marriage is between a man and woman, and refuses to support any measures which seek to mimic that arrangement.

In particular, it remains opposed to moves in the Australian Capital Territory to allow same sex couples to hold formal ceremonies recognising their relationships.

Gay rights campaigners have been highly critical - arguing that discrimination will continue until people can marry a partner of their choice.

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