31/03/2004

Gay couples to gain legal recognition through civil partnerships

Same-sex couples will gain formal legal recognition of their relationships by entering into a civil partnership, under proposals outlined to Parliament today.

At present same-sex couples have no recognition under the law, but a range of rights and responsibilities would flow from entering a civil partnership, helping same-sex couples to organise their lives together, according to the Civil Partnership Bill – published by Deputy Minister for Women and Equality Jacqui Smith.

The main provisions in the Bill include:
  • responsibility to provide reasonable maintenance for civil partners and children of the family;
  • full recognition for the purposes of life assurance;
  • ability to succeed to tenancy rights;
  • social security and pension benefits;
  • and the ability to gain parental responsibility for their civil partner's children.
Ms Smith said that the Bill would open the way to "respect, recognition and justice" for those who have been denied it.

She added: "Same-sex couples often face a range of unnecessary problems in their everyday lives because of a lack of legal recognition of their relationships. The Civil Partnership Bill aims to eradicate this by providing same-sex couples with the opportunity to gain recognition of their relationship for the first time. It shows that we really value the diversity of the society we live in."

The process of entering a civil partnership would be administered by the local registration service. On the day of registration, each member of the couple would sign the register in the presence of the registration officer and two witnesses. There would also be a formal, court-based process for dissolution of a civil partnership.

In the interests of creating parity across the United Kingdom, the Civil Partnership Bill is intended to legislate for the whole of the UK. Scottish Ministers will ask the Scottish Parliament to agree to a 'Sewel motion' to include Scottish provisions in the Civil Partnership Bill.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is currently in suspension but in its absence, and following consultation, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has also endorsed this approach.

Nine other countries in the European Union already have some provision for recognising those in committed same-sex partnerships.

(gmcg)

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