The Australian government has for the first time granted same-sex couples certain rights but has still not passed civil union or same-sex marriage laws.

The Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws – General Law Reform) Bill 2008, also known as the Same-Sex Omnibus Bill, was passed on Monday by the Senate.

It will amend federal laws removing discrimination against same-sex couples in a number of areas such as immigration, taxation, social security, adoption and health.

The legislation was part of an election promise by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to implement the recommendations of a report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

While some called the bill a significant step towards giving Australia’s gay and lesbian community equal rights, others said that it did not go far enough.

Green party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said that the passage of the bill was long overdue but added that, “The Marriage Act is a glaring omission from the laws that have been amended, with its specific exclusion of same-sex marriage.”

“Same-sex marriage is an issue on which Australia needs to catch up to other forward-thinking nations,” she said.

The government has thus far refused to recall a 2004 federal law which defines marriage as only being between a man and a woman. The law also does not allow the state to recognise any civil unions or same-sex marriages that were registered in another country.

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