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Same-sex relationships in Western Australia

Kendall, C., Leishman, B., Rogerson, S. and Walker, S. (2000) Same-sex relationships in Western Australia. eLaw Journal: Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law, 7 (4).

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In January, 1999 a number of articles appeared in the West Australian and other local Perth newspapers describing the community's quite justified disbelief at the legal mistreatment of Perth resident, Danilo Rodrigues Romao.

Mr Romao, a gay man, suffered the tragic loss of his same-sex partner of 27 years, John Gilbert, in September 1997. Although the two men had shared a life together and jointly owned most of the belongings in their Mount Lawley home, Mr Romao was informed in January of this year that he would probably lose his home to some of Mr Gilbert's distant relatives.

The property title to the couple's home was in Mr Gilbert's name alone. If the couple were heterosexual, the house would have almost certainly been given to Mr Gilbert's partner. Because their relationship is not recognised as "valid" under West Australian law, however, Mr Romao has no automatic legal claim to Mr Gilbert's estate and is now at the mercy of Mr Gilbert's relatives - persons whose legal rights rank ahead of Mr Romao.

Danilo Romao's situation, while tragic and clearly discriminatory, is not uncommon. Each year, many lesbian and gay male relationships in Western Australia are legally labelled "invalid", "not recognised", "unequal." This results in many gay men and lesbians being denied access to shared property, denied the right to adopt children and being discriminated against in employment. It also results in costly litigation proceedings often avoided by those in heterosexual relationships.

Western Australia remains the only Australian State without basic human rights protections for lesbians, gay men and their partners. Same-sex relationships are denied legal recognition and this often results in unacceptable social and legal inequality. This paper aims to provide basic legal information and advice to those in same-sex relationships. It outlines what the law is and, to the extent that this is possible in a State that appears adverse to true systemic equality, how best to ensure that these relationships are granted some degree of protection and legal recognition.

Like our heterosexual counterparts, lesbians and gay men form many different types of relationships. As such, it is rather difficult to write a paper that applies to each and every relationship within our community. As always, it is best and often necessary to consult with a lawyer before making any decisions which might impact on the legal status of your particular situation. This paper does not constitute legal advice. Rather, it offers a brief introduction to those legal issues and questions which we believe are most likely to impact on the lives of lesbians, gay men and their families. We offer some suggestions for devising strategies but, as always, strongly suggest that those who foresee problems seek professional legal advice.

On a much wider level, we write this paper in an attempt to encourage all persons committed to social justice to continue their struggle for the full recognition of our relationships and needs. While we have not covered every topic of interest to the lesbian and gay community, we do hope that this paper goes some way in detailing the state of the law in Western Australia, while encouraging much needed social activism and legal reform.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Law
Publisher: School of Law, Murdoch University
Publisher's Website:
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