On 1st July, the government published its plans to give gay couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples. Ministers claimed that the registered civil partnerships would recognise the inherent value of same-sex relationships in British society and lessen the number of family breakdowns and homophobic attacks. They would also force a culture change in society’s attitude to gays and lesbians.According to proposals gay couples in England and Wales will be able to sign a document at a register office in front of the registrar and two witnesses, although there will not be an official ceremony and the word “marriage” will not be used. They will receive a certificate and be able to call themselves “registered civil partners”, obliged to support each other financially and emotionally throughout their lives. Partners will gain rights over property, social security, benefits and pensions – both state and private, responsibility for each others’ children – with contact rights and child support obligations if the partnership fails and is dissolved.
New immigration rights will mean that a gay couple will not be expected to have lived together for two years before one partner can move with the other to Britain. But once in Britain, there will be a two-year probationary period to match that of heterosexual couples. Same-sex partners will be able to act as each other’s “next of kin” in a hospital situation. They will be exempted from testifying against each other in court, and will receive the same protection against domestic violence as married couples.
If one partner dies, the other will be able for the first time to register the death, play a role in funeral arrangements, claim a survivor’s pension and receive bereavement benefits or compensation for fatal accidents or criminal injury. Gay partners will be exempt from inheritance tax, which has forced a many surviving partners to sell their homes. Survivors will be recognised if their partner dies without leaving a will.
The partnerships will be available to couples over 16, although 16- and 17-year-olds would require written consent from a parent or guardian. Couples would be able to officially register 15 days after putting in an application. There will be limitations on partnerships between those with close blood ties, mirroring the incest laws for heterosexual marriage. The government will also introduce new offences of perjury to reflect the illegality of bigamy in straight marriages. There will be a court-based process for dissolution of a partnership in which the couple would have to show the relationship had broken down irretrievably. Financial legal aid will be on offer.
Partnership registration schemes already exist in London, Bath, Birmingham, Brighton, Darlington and Leeds, and in Devon and Dorset, but they are not legally binding. Ministers predicted that up to a third of gays and lesbians would take part in civil registration by 2050. In the highest projections, the proportion of registered same-sex partnerships would be the same as the proportion of heterosexual marriages.
80% Support UK Domestic Partner Law
Eight out of 10 Britons support legislation recognizing same-sex domestic partnerships according to a survey undertaken by the government in preparation for the Civil Partnership legislation unveiled in the Queen`s Speech.
Equality Minister Jacqui Smith called the support overwhelming. The poll was based on submissions to the government from citizens and corporations. “The right to be treated equally and fairly is fundamental. It is the foundation upon which everything else depends and allows individuals to pursue the other aspects of their lives,” Smith said.