Last week, the government of the Australian Capital Territory introduced legislation to recognise both same- and different-sex civil unions. As with the New Zealand legislation, this will be "marriage in all but name", with existing laws being tweaked to ensure that such unions are treated exactly the same as marriage. Unfortunately, the federal government views this as "undermining marriage", and is now promising to block the legislation. The message this sends is crystal clear: that there is no place for gays in Howard's Australia, and that they will never be treated equally. For a country which prides itself as being a modern democracy, that is simply an appalling message to send.