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    First Published: Before August 2002
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The UK's first register for gay couples has been launched (Thursday 6th Sept 2001) by London Mayor Ken Livingstone. The new London Partnership Register while not granting the same legal rights as an official marriage, is seen as a key step towards full equality for same-sex couples in Britain.
The first couple to sign were Ian Burford, 68, a former member of the English Shakespeare Company and Alexander Cannell, 62, a retired nursing manager of Clapham, south London, who have been together for 38 years. They were dressed in white suits and smiled throughout the five-minute ceremony conducted by Rob Coward, a specially trained Greater London Authority officer.

Ian said "Alex is the most important person in my life and I am in his. Throughout that 38 years I have had his love, friendship and support and throughout what ever years are left to us he knows that he has my love, friendship and support."

Playwright Linda Wilkinson, 49, and IT consultant Carol Budd, 48, of Bethnal Green, east London, who have been together for 16 years, took part in a second ceremony. Asked if they cried during the ceremony they said "Well we didn't really, but I saw Ken shedding a tear or two!"

London Mayor Ken Livingstone was Guest of Honour at both registrations following his pledge to establish the register during his mayoral election campaign in May 2000. Throughout his time as Leader of the Greater London Council, MP for Brent East and now London Mayor he has been a constant supporter of equality and gay rights.

The Greater London Authority is the first public body in the country to recognise same-sex relationships as being on a par with heterosexual partnerships. Ken said, "Although our register is only a small step on the road to equality, I would like it to act as a trigger for real change."

Heterosexual couples will also be able to put their names on the register which is intended to be self-financing at a cost of 85. Mr Livingstone believes the scheme will help in disputes over issues such as housing, taxation, inheritance rights, pensions, immigration and family law.

Angela Mason, the mayor's advisor on gay issues and the Executive Director of Stonewall who was also at the ceremonies called them "historic" and said "it was a terribly happy day." She was thanked for her work for equality which had helped bring about the occasion.

There were no trappings of a traditional marriage ceremony like confetti or declaration of vows, although Ken Livingstone did present the couples with flowers.

"This is not a wedding. We are not doing this to ape heterosexual marriage," claimed Londa and Carol. "Love, trust and commitment, these are the reasons that we have chosen to sign the partnership register."

"We are doing this because we believe it is another nail in the coffin of the prejudice that denies us our fundamental rights as human beings and makes us second-class citizens in our own country. Around the globe we can be criminalised for a kiss." Sealing their registration with an embrace, the couple added, "This kiss is for equality and freedom. This kiss is for everyone around the globe who can never hope to dare."

Several other European countries, including Germany and The Netherlands, have already granted full marriage rights to gay couples. The British parliament is now being pressed to extend the scheme nationally. Jane Griffiths, Labour MP for Reading East, is to introduce a Bill in the House of Commons letting local authorities set up partnership registration schemes. She said, "Most European states have introduced a scheme that allows people who cohabit to register their relationship and earn rights and responsibilities towards each other. Making this change is not undermining marriage but reflecting how adults organise their lives." There is likely also to be a second private bill proposed in the House of Lords.

Angela Mason added, "We believe both Bills will receive support across the political spectrum. So many other countries, most recently Germany, Belgium and France allow for the civil registration of partnerships. People recognize that change in this country is well overdue."

When first announcing the new register Mayor Ken Livingstone said, "Lesbians and gay men contribute to society in exactly the same way as the rest of the population. They work as teachers, doctors, police officers, nurses, firefighters. They run businesses. They have mortgages, pay rent and taxes."
He added, " They have family lives and many raise children. Yet lesbians and gay men are still treated differently from the rest of the population. Our research showed that there was a deeply held wish for some form of recognition of same-sex relationships, firstly as a way of publicly stating one's commitment to one's partner and secondly as a way of avoiding problems arising over intestacy, taxation, inheritance rights and family law."

Registrations take place in the visitor's centre at the GLA's headquarters on Wednesdays and Saturdays and there will space for up to 25 guests, with time for a ceremony for those who want it.

Couples are charged a fee of 85 to register under the scheme, which will cover the running costs and ensure that the scheme will be totally self-financing. Couples will receive a certificate confirming that their relationship has been registered, but responding to concerns in the lesbian and gay communities about confidentiality, the Register will not be made available to the general public.

Stonewall's Angela Mason has been advising on the scheme which she welcomes: "Clearly we still have some way to go, but I believe that the London Partnership Register is a great start. London government will be the first public body in the country to formally recognise same sex relationships. Registration will not automatically confer legal rights as marriage does, but - crucially - I hope that couples who have registered with the scheme will be able to use it as additional evidence in any dispute or civil action that might arise over tenancy, pension or immigration rights. The London Partnerships Register is a step on the road to equality. I hope other cities will follow suit and that organisations will accept it as proof of a relationship. There is a long way to go but I am proud that London is playing its part."

If you're interested in registering your relationship call 020 7983 4100.

The Relationships (Civil Registration) Bill
First London Registrations
London Partnership Register Set Up

 

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