Civil partnership law stalled

Submitted by Anon on 12 August, 2004 - 2:58

By Susan Jackson

Last week Tory reactionaries in the House of Lords added a wrecking amendment to Government proposals for Civil Partnership legislation for same-sex couples. The amendment called for the rights that would be available to same-sex couples to be available to those who are carers.
The Tory amendment should be understood as the cynical move it is. It has a homophobic intent - avoiding the important legal step forward for equality that same sex-couples should have equal rights in their sexual relationships as heterosexual couples.

Some in the lgb communities have revelled in the discomfort of the Government forced onto the back foot by an amendment that they cannot support. But OutRage! and the Coalition for Marriage Equality (CME) have made a major miscalculation in publicly saying that there is merit in the Tory amendment.

They are allying with those who are most against lgb equality, for the short-term gain of exposing the (real) current inadequacies of the Government's proposals.

The CME covers a broad swathe of lgb opinion, from the right to the libertarian "left".

On the right there are those who see same-sex marriage as the holy grail of lgb equality and partnership rights as a poor substitute. But the libertarian left are contemptuous of any privileges for couple relationships, seeing this as a heteronormative matter that does not fit in with queer relationships. This is an uneasy alliance indeed!

The reason why the Government retreated from partnership rights being available to non-married heterosexual couples in their initial legislation was because this was seen by religious organisations and right-wing reactionaries as equally, if not more, undermining of the sanctity of marriage as same-sex rights. And New Labour is not prepared to challenge these people.

It is these same reactionaries that want to "defend" marriage that have put down the amendment. Socialists and progressive people should expose the hypocritical nature of those who are say they are widening the legislation when they have no intention of doing so.

The lack of access for unmarried heterosexual people to partnership rights is not the only flaw in the Government's proposals. The rights the Government are proposing for couples in lesbian and gay relationships are not equivalent to heterosexual marriage in the area of pensions. This is an extremely contentious area, especially with the current legal challenge from the trade unions on the exemption of pensions from the Employment Regulations brought in last year.

Pension rights will not be retrospective of the Civil Partnership legislation, so people in same-sex couples, unlike married couples, will not be entitled to all their partner's pension contributions once they have registered their partnership.

This is a big issue for many in public sector schemes, where the only way you can have access to a partner's pension is through marriage, and less of an issue in the private sector where 75% of schemes have equal access already.

Many doubt the commitment of the Government to bringing in the legislation before the next election. The Bill started in the House of Lords and therefore cannot be subject to the Parliament Act. This is despite New Labour knowing that the "anti buggery" quotient of the House of Lords is probably higher than anywhere else in Britain apart from a Surrey Golf Club.

At the TUC LGBT conference last week two emergency motions on the issue of the Civil Partnership legislation were passed. The first, from the CWU, called on the TUC to continue to campaign for equal access to partnership rights for all, same-sex and heterosexual couples; equal pension rights; and for an end to the exclusion of religious places of worship from sites for partnership registration. The second, from Unison, condemned the hostile Tory amendment passed in the House of Lords and the danger it posed for progressive legislation on partnership rights.

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