On the eve of moves to end discrimination against gay couples across a range of federal laws, former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson has written to federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland to urge a further shift in family law.
The reform would give gay couples access to the cheaper specialist court and its mediators — instead of being forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars to resolve disputes in the Supreme Court.
Under current laws, de facto heterosexual couples are also denied access to the Family Court. In the letter, obtained by The Age, Professor Nicholson argues the reform would ensure more cases are settled at mediation without trial. (Misha Schubert in The Age)
The Sydney Morning Herald carries a slightly different version of Schubert's report, obviously obtained from the same wire service that syndicated it to The National Rupert and other Murdoch organs:
Gay couples who are separating should be allowed access to the Family Court to settle property disputes, the court's former chief justice has urged.
In a letter to federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson said Family Court protection should be extended beyond married couples, Fairfax newspapers reported on Thursday.
It seems safe to infer that Professor Nicholson isn't just calling for the extension of Family Court services to same sex couples - he wants the services extended to cover straight de facto relationships too.
Because Professor Nicholson isn't a journalist, but a former judge turned academic and hence not up to the task of producing lucid writing for the Age readership, because his proposals aren't particularly newsworthy in their own right but mostly because it's not enough to just report these things, you have to get a range of reactions for and against, Schubert has done the usual ring around, canvassing the opinions of Australian Coalition for Equality spokesman Rodney Croome, Australian Christian Lobby chief Jim Wallace and Gary Singer, the deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne.
The reason Gary Singer was included in the ring around is that right now he's in the middle of a Supreme Court dispute after a break up with his gay partner. Apparently it's a 'high profile court battle' so now I shall have to dive into Google News to catch up on it - I've obviously been skipping some key pages of my morning paper over the past few weeks. Singer is in favour of Professor Nicholson's proposal:
"One of the problems with being under state law is that your file is open to the public so anyone can access your file and read the affidavits and material in your file," he said. "When people break up, they say nasty things about each other — that exposure doesn't happen to other people."
Whoops. I think I've just picked up a bit of a complicity problem there.
Jim Wallace, as you might expect, is against the extension of Family Court services to same-sex couples:
Australian Christian Lobby chief Jim Wallace said he had strong concerns about giving Family Court access to gay couples without children because it undermined the traditional model of family. But he said there was a case for gay couples with children to have access to the specialist court to ensure the best interests of the child were protected.
Somehow, by the time the syndicated version of Schubert's report hit The National Rupert Wallace's views had moderated a little:
But Australian Christian Lobby chief Jim Wallace said while giving Family Court access to gay couples without children undermined the traditional family model, those with children had a case for Family Court access to ensure the best interests of their children were protected.
It will be interesting to see whether Wallace moderates his position any further, or whether this was merely a temporary lapse and he'll go on to insist that far from having access to the Family Court, those who live in sinful unconsecrated unions and really sinful unions with members of their own sex will just have to go on taking their chances with washing their dirty laundry in the public forums of the Sate courts.