The shadow home secretary, Oliver Letwin, said:
"We don't want to create a pale imitation of marriage, but we do recognise that
there are real grievances for homosexual couples."|
Lord Lester's Bill is very similar to the Partnership Bill introduced by
Reading MP Jane Griffiths Commons last Autumn. Her Private Member's Bill was passed
by the Commons, but the government said that an immediate change in the law was
unlikely because of their Parliamentary priorities. This new bill in
the Lords is part of a concerted campaign to get the issue pushed up the government's
agenda. Now reform has the backing of the Tories. In the Lords, Lady Buscombe, a
prominent Conservative moderniser, said: "It must be right to confront
any form of discrimination which compromises mutual respect and commitment within
a stable and loving relationship for no good reason." Gay Labour peer Lord Ali
challenged the government to prove its radicalism by taking up the bill. "The government
has a moral obligation to give the bill safe passage,"
Lord Lester's plans which are backed by Stonewall would mean that
umarried gay or straight couples who register would be legally
be next of kin
arrange their property jointly
make provisions in the area of mental health, social welfare and social
benefit from their partner's pension scheme
register their partner's death
inherit their partner's property even if no wills had been made
claim exemption from paying inheritance tax on their property
Campaign group Stonewall say that a successful debate on Friday was vital to persuade
the government that the pressure for change is building. Already as a result of the
two Partnership Bills and the success of Ken Livingstone's London Partnership
Register the government have asked ministers and their departments to report on what
changes will be required, if and when gay and umarried couples are given equal rights.
Liberal Democrat Lord Lester said: "Couples who are in long and enduring relationships
should be able to have their relationships recognised." Although the "civil partnership
register" he is proposing was not "exactly like marriage", it would give co-habitees
many of the rights currently enjoyed by married couples. Angela Mason of Stonewall
said "There is a very strong moral and practical case for changing the law to
recognise same-sex partnerships. The law in this country is unnecessarily cruel and discriminatory.
This Bill is not about gay marriage. It is about allowing couples in mutually
caring relationships to provide for and protect each other."
THE GRIFFITH'S BILL
Jane Griffith's Relationships (Civil Registration) Bill which was passed by the Commons in
October 2001 with a majority of 120, marked a real change in attitudes towards the
discrimination suffered by gay couples. It was backed by the Law Society who are
also pressing for a change in legislation.
Mark Harper of the Society's Family Law Committee said, "Someone who has lived
with their partner for 10 or 20 years, why shouldn't they be able to claim for
maintenance or a share of property? And also why can't they claim on the death
of their partner as that is when more rights are needed."
Angela Mason, Executive
Director of Stonewall, said they supported the proposals too. " This is really
a case of the law catching up with the realities of peoples' lives. This Bill is not
proposing gay marriage, but it will stop much of the discrimination against same-sex couples – discrimination which is
often very distressing and certainly unfair."
Though MPs backed the Bill, the implicit recognition of same-sex marriages
was expected to cause more controversy.
Another Labour MP Stuart Bell of Middlesbrough signalled the kind of opposition
which is likely surface.
"Couples who have a civil registration will in reality have all the rights of a
married couple," he said, "The Bill proposed ... would bring about a major redefinition
of what is involved in marriage". The MP called for a referendum if same-sex marriages
were to become official government policy.
Though the Griffith's Bill was always unlikely to become law, the fact that it successfully
passed a first Parliamentary hurdle, made it much easier for campaigners to
argue that legislation to end this discrimination had to be introduced at the earliest opportunity.
First London Registrations
London Partnership Register Set Up
First Gay Weddings in Holland