Labour Research May 2004

Features: Equality

Civil partnerships bill is hailed as a "leap forward"

The government's long-awaited Bill giving legal recognition to same-sex couples was introduced into the House of Lords at the end of March.

The Civil Partnership Bill was hailed as a "symbolic step towards recognition of long-term gay partnerships" by Ben Summerskill, chief executive of campaigning organisation Stonewall. Public services union UNISON welcomed the Bill as a "leap forward" in society's gradual acceptance of same-sex couples.

The Bill will give people who register through a local registration service rights and obligations in relation to their "civil partner", including:

* responsibility to provide reasonable maintenance for the civil partner and children of the family;

* the ability to succeed to tenancy rights;

* social security and pension benefits;

* full recognition for the purposes of life assurance; and

* the ability to gain parental responsibility for their civil partner's children.

It also includes provision for a formal, court-based dissolution of a civil partnership.

Members of public-sector pension schemes will be entitled to survivor benefits, such as a survivor pension, for registered same-sex partners in the same way as married partners. However, Stonewall is unhappy that these rights will only apply from the time a partnership is registered, and will not be applied retrospectively.

"We're deeply saddened that ministers have not guaranteed equal pensions treatment," said Summerskill. "Gay people make exactly the same pension contributions as heterosexuals and should be entitled to exactly the same rewards. We'll push for the Bill to be amended during its parliamentary passage."

The Bill covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It will include Scotland, subject to agreement by the Scottish Parliament - which is likely, as the Scottish Executive has already affirmed its intention to introduce civil partnership.