On Tuesday 12 October the Commons voted overwhelmingly to give the Civil Partnership Bill a second reading. The minister for Equality, Jacqui Smith, told MPs that this Bill was the latest step in a long journey, which started when homosexuality was decriminalised in 1968. MPs voted to proceed consideration of the Bill by 426 to 49. The Leader of the Opposition, Michael Howard, was one of 68 Conservatives who voted in favour of the Bill.
Jacqui Smith MP told the Commons: “Today’s Bill will ensure equality for thousands of couples whose relationships are currently invisible in the eyes of the law, send out a clear message about the importance of stable and committed same-sex relationships, and mark a major step in helping such couples gain greater social acceptance of their partnership.”
Under the new legislation same-sex couples will be allowed to register their relationship as a civil partnership, allowing them responsibilities and legal rights such as joint treatment for state benefits, the duty to provide maintenance for a civil partner and any dependents, and recognition under immigration rules and intestacy which up until now only married couples have enjoyed.
The Lords had tried to ‘wreck’ the Bill by including an amendment, which altered it by giving rights to long-term carers and family members, such as elderly spinsters living together. Smith said that this would create a ‘myriad of legal absurdities’ and would have to be overturned before the Bill became law. Her opinions were echoed by the Conservatives who joined the Government in moving to remove the Lords’ amendment.
If passed, the legislation would become Law towards the end of 2005, making the UK the ninth EU state to introduce civil partnership for same-sex couples since introduced by Denmark in 1989.
The debate won cross party support with only a small band of die-hard Tory right-wingers, including Ann Widdecombe, Gerald Howarth and Edward Leigh refusing to play ball with the frontbench, and thus removing their support for the Bill.
The Civil Partnership Bill will continue to its Committee Stage in the House of Commons next week. It will still have to return to the House of Lords once more before it becomes law.
Civil Partnership Bill to recognise Pension Equality
In a dramatic change of position, Anne McGuire MP, Minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, signalled that the Government had listened to calls for real pension equality for lesbian and gay men who form civil partnerships.
In her speech Anne McGuire promised that the Government would follow the approach that they had taken in the tax system: “As for tax purposes, for survivor pensions in public service schemes, registered same-sex couple will be treated in the same way as married couples. The change will be achieved by means of regulations, which will be introduced following Royal Assent. There is no need to amend the Bill,” she said. “The regulations will provide equality, as they will allow registered same-sex partners to accrue survivor pensions in public service tax schemes from 1988. That replicates the position for child and working tax credits, child benefit and guardian’s allowance, which will be amended so that the rights and responsibilities of opposite-sex couples are replicated for same-sex couples.”
This decision follows a sustained campaign by backbench Labour MPs and Stonewall. Chris Bryant, MP (Rhonda), Angela Eagle MP (Wallasey) and Des Turner MP (Brighton Kemptown) who welcomed the Government’s new commitment to ensure pension equality for surviving Civil Partners and spouses.
Welcoming the change, Chris Bryant MP said: “This is great news. Many same-sex couples in the public sector teachers, doctors, porters, nurses, caretakers – will be delighted to hear that when this new law comes in they will be treated just the same as married couples when it comes to pensions. This Labour government has brought forward a series of excellent equality measures for lesbians and gay men. This change of heart is further evidence of just how progressive this government is.