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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 November, 2004, 12:50 GMT
Bill breakdown: The Civil Partnerships Bill
BBC Parliament offers a rundown of the key points of the Civil Partnerships Bill.

Main provisions
The purpose of the Civil Partnership Bill is to "enable same-sex couples to obtain legal recognition of their relationship by forming a civil partnership which they may do by registering as civil partners of each other."

Legal rights currently denied homosexual couples
Inheritance tax - unlike couples within marriage, gay and lesbian partners currently pay up to 40% inheritance tax when inheriting from a partner
Rights on children - currently gay and lesbian partners do not find it easy to gain parental responsibility for each other's children
Pension rights - under occupational schemes, heterosexuals can benefit from their dead spouses pensions. Though rights are enjoyed by gay and lesbian couples in some company schemes, many are excluded
Next of kin - currently gay and lesbian partners do not have recognised rights as next of kin to authorise hospital treatment or to make funeral arrangements.
Relationship breakdown - currently, gay and lesbian partners have weaker rights on things like shared homes where relationships break down
Benefit rights - gay and lesbian couples are currently assessed individually for state benefits. The bill will lead to joint assessment in some areas. It will also give gays and lesbians eligibility to survivor pensions and, where relevant, bereavement benefits
The partnership presupposes the following of the couple:-

- They are of the same sex;
- They are not already in an existing civil partnership or lawfully married
- They are not within the prohibited degrees of relationships
- They are both over the age of eighteen or are over sixteen and have consent of the appropriate people or bodies (in England and Wales and Northern Ireland) or are sixteen or over in Scotland.

The main features of the Bill are:-

  • Gay and lesbian couples in England and Wales will be given the same legal rights as husbands and wives

  • Couples will have to be registered in a new civil partnership but there is no cohabitation requirement.

  • There will be a "formal, court-based process" for dissolving a civil partnership, requiring one partner to show that the relationship has irretrievably broken down.

  • Couples will not be able to register if they were in an existing marriage or civil partnership.

  • Opposite sex couples who don't want to get married will not be able to register.

    Bill's progress

    Lords

  • January 2003: Lord Lester of Herne Hill introduced a private members bill on civil partnerships.

    The government said it would consider legislating if he withdrew.

  • 22 April: Second reading

  • 10-25 May: Committee stage

  • 24 June: Report stage, involved a government defeat by peers who wished to allow family members who live together for 12 years to form civil partnerships.

    Many considered that this a wrecking amendment - tabled by Baroness O'Cathain - supported by many who disapproved of the idea of civil partnerships.

  • 1 July: Third reading

    Commons

  • October 2001: Jane Griffiths MP introduced partnership registration by a Ten-Minute Rule Bill.

  • 12 October 2004: Second reading

  • 19, 21, 26 October: Committee stage where MPs overturned the Lords' "wrecking" amendments

  • 9 November: Report stage & third reading

    Rationale and objections
  • The government wants to avoid a possible legal challenge under the EU's anti-discrimination employment laws (rather than the Human Rights Act).

    An EU directive on non-discrimination passed in 2000 outlaws less favourable treatment on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment.

    The government has insisted this means relatively modest changes for firms, such as a need to review policies to ensure that where benefits are offered to unmarried heterosexual couples they are also offered to gay couples.

    But business lobbyists like the CBI have expressed concern that this will still leave firms open to legal challenge where they restrict benefits to the married couples, since gay couples can't marry, a restriction of benefits might be found to be "indirectly discriminatory".

    Obviously the government could simply require firms - and the public sector - to offer benefits to all couples, married and unmarried, but this would be unpopular with employers on grounds of cost.

    The main alternative, to avoid legal challenge, is to legislate for an equivalent of marriage for gay and lesbian people.

  • The government thinks it is a good thing, clearly fitting with their equality agenda.

    It also thinks civil partnership will have quantifiable benefits for people's happiness.

    The Cabinet Office published a report in December 2002 which found that marriage increases people's life satisfaction and happiness by an amount equivalent to an additional annual income of 72,000.

    The government estimates civil partnership will lead to an increase in happiness equivalent to an increase in collective annual income of between 6.1 and 61.2 billion.

  • The Bill is controversial for many - especially in the Lords - who are concerned that it could undermine marriage, and give institutional approval to homosexuality.

    Opposition positions
  • The Conservative Party leadership is allowing their MPs a free vote on the issue.

    Speaking at the Policy Exchange on 9 February 2004, Michael Howard outlined the Party's position.

    He explained: "Civil partnership differs from marriage...To recognise civil partnerships is not, in any way, to denigrate or downgrade marriage. It is to recognise and respect the fact that many people want to live their lives in different ways. And it is not the job of the state to put barriers in their way."

    Some Conservative backbenchers are expected to table amendments in an attempt to derail the Bill.

  • The Liberal Democrats support the Bill.

    In January 2003, Lord Lester introduced his Equality Bill into the House of Lords with the whole-hearted support of Charles Kennedy.

    Mr Kennedy said: "If passed into law, it will do a great deal to end much of the legal anomaly that currently exists, and end the injustice which particularly confronts many gay and lesbian couples in long-term, loving, and stable relationships."

    You can watch MPs debate the report stage and third reading of the Civil Partnership Bill on Tuesday 9 November from 1300 GMT

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