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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Should the law recognise gay relationships?
Two gay couples in London have "married" in a unique ceremony.
Their relationships will be entered into the London Partnerships Register, an initiative of the capital's mayor, Ken Livingstone.
The register - the first of its kind in the UK - does not confer any legal rights, but supporters hope it will help in disputes over housing, taxation, inheritance rights and pensions.
They also see it as a small step towards full equality with heterosexual relationships.
Gay couples say they face financial and legal uncertainties because the law does not recognise their unions.
Should the scheme be adopted elsewhere in the country? Should same-sex relationships have the same legal standing as heterosexual ones?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
As far as I can see, gay marriages hurt no one, and will make a lot of people happy, not to mention the legal advantages for people who choose to enter into them. Surely this should be the main consideration of society.
I think those who say that their gay partner can't inherit anything are wrong. They ought to see a solicitor and write a will. They'll find they can leave their money to just about anyone they please. Gay marriage would however make it harder to write their ex-partner out of such a will.
Gay marriages SHOULD be recognised if we are to respect each other's right to choose who we love and how. Surely this is a fundamental human right? I am heterosexual and my partner and I are now making plans for our wedding, and feel that people should not be denied this right to choose who and how they love because of their sexuality.
Tuomo Tanskanen, Finland
All partnerships should be recognised under the law not only gay ones. There are far too many people who have lost their beliefs about marriage to ignore the fact that it's an outmoded institution. It's about time we stopped living in the past.
If you allow gay couples the same rights where do you stop? You will allow heterosexual couples who live together the same rights next. They want all the good points about marriage but not the 'bad' ones (in their eyes). The commitment. The fact that if they want to end the relationship they will have to get a divorce. They want to be able to walk away when they feel like it and have no come back. I disagree with homosexual relationships on religious grounds. I still believe in God even if there are few Christians around. Therefore disagree with homosexual marriages even if they do want to commit themselves to each other.
Long-term same sex relationships should have equivalent legal status to heterosexual relationships. Partners should have equivalent pension rights, and be able to succeed to council tenancies, etc. So should unmarried heterosexual couples in an established relationship. Marriage per se is an outmoded, patriarchal institution and couples should not be obliged to subscribe to it for the sake of gaining the above mentioned and similar rights.
R. Cliffe, UK
I am a Catholic and extremely happy with my girlfriend. However I see no substantial statistical indicators suggesting that heterosexual unions lead overwhelmingly to human satisfaction nor happiness, as witness the alarmingly high divorce rate. If gay couples can find happiness within their union then to me that is wonderful and I certainly believe equal rights in law are just and indeed, in time, inevitable
Ken Livingstone's purely symbolic gay "partnership register" has already achieved its first goal: to get the issue into the mainstream media. Let's keep it there until until the law is changed to acknowledge the validity of gay relationships.
Nigel Okelo, Canada
I have been with my partner for nearly ten years yet if I were to marry someone of the opposite sex tomorrow, even a complete stranger, that person would automatically have more rights than my partner in a range of important areas including inheritance, death benefits and access to me and what should happen to me should I be seriously ill in hospital. I fail to see why we (and for that matter heterosexuals who choose not to marry) should be prevented from entering into a contract, religious or otherwise, which ends this anomaly.
If gays are happy to accept the "responsibilities" that go with these rights (.ie. if there's to be a gay divorce someone will lose a house and if lesbians split there may be a custody dispute over children) then go for it and good luck. It's so easy to market the gay lifestyle and demand rights on TV. Making them work in practice once you've got them is much harder but that long-term practical view is nearly always ignored by the gay community.
Paul Stafford, England
Yes, yes, yes!
There also exists the sad irony that if one of the gay partners is transsexual, then a marriage is indeed recognised by the law, because the transsexual partner is treated by this country as being of the sex on the birth certificate, not the actual sex of the individual's experience.
As a gay man, I am discriminated against in almost every area of my life. Under the current laws, when I die my ex-wife will inherit al my worldly goods whilst my long-term partner (a man) will get nothing, despite the fact that we have been together for almost twenty years. As far as I am concerned, the London Partnerships will go some considerable way to rectifying the huge chasm between recognition of gay and straight relationships.
You mean treat everyone the same and give equal human rights? Golly, that's a bit radical!
Jo Avery, UK
Any commitment that human beings make to each other should be recognised and celebrated.
I fail to see any fairness in the current situation. I could marry the woman I fall in love with, so why can't my neighbour marry the man he falls in love with? It's absurd. We need to be an open, fair country and not be plagued by religious dogma from an age long gone.
In addition, the law provides them with a number of protections that same sex partners do not have. Homosexuality is a natural state and has been present in human society since it began. To discriminate against it is to deny what is human nature and is thoroughly reprehensible. In a developed society which prides itself on human rights this is no longer acceptable.
The fact is, if gay rights are upheld why should not any couple of friends who share a house have legal rights? It will then be discrimination against straight guys to deny them all the advantages given to gays! The fact is that marriage is a unique relationship and there are elements to it that cannot be reproduced. It's those elements that justify its special treatment. But in addition, many gays don't want marriage status if it means that they are to live faithful to the one partner, which after all is at the heart of what marriage is supposed to be about.
I despair that this still remains an issue in 21st century western civilisation. A gay couple's union is not about religion, walking down the aisle or upsetting the heterosexual community - it should be about equality, human rights and promoting monogamous relationships. I applaud Ken's initiative, but the government should now move to confer legal rights. In not acting it is quietly supporting discrimination.
No such relationship should be recognised by law in any country because from the beginning marriage is between a man and a woman. No more, no less.
To David K I say, why is homosexuality "abnormal" when history clearly shows that throughout recorded time 5-10% of people have been gay? Being gay is about as abnormal as being blonde.
At present gays do not have the option to marry while heterosexuals do. Yes there is an issue re non-married couples' civil rights but at the end of the day, that can be easily resolved by a trip to the registrar. We have no such option, period.
I have to admit I am pleasantly surprised to see that the UK is finally joining the European neighbours in the Gay Relationships debate. I just hope that your government chooses the direction we in Germany, France and Holland have taken. Giving gays the right to choose if they wish to marry or not is the most social and noble thing to do.
Britain, please don't fall behind the rest of Europe here. Obviously the recognition of gay unions will come with time both legally and otherwise. Why not just make a small leap ahead and accept the fact that homosexuality always has been and always will be part of human society?!
Homosexuality is abnormal and perverse whether one chooses to look at it from a biological, religious or any other perspective, so no amount of spin nor lobbying can change the underlying facts of the matter. If people of the same sex want to live together, let them get on with it - I accept that there is no point trying to stop them. But this is very different from encouraging them to do so or bestowing the concept of "normality" on their abnormal activities.
As for Ken Livingstone, he is playing true to type by deliberately provoking the moral majority of this country by espousing yet another politically correct cause. Has he ever been right about anything?
Andy, Republic of Ireland
I agree with Kate (UK)- but to go one further: Am I the only person who finds it a little absurd that we have entered the 21st century and so many couples (of all sexual orientations) still feel that they need to undergo some sort of outlandish ceremony in order to prove their commitment to one other and, above all, for their union to be legitimised by the state?
Well of course same sex couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples. We live in a progressive society. My partner and I will soon celebrate our 30th anniversary with our gay and straight friends. However, if my partner were ill, why should his distant relatives take priority over my presence in the sick room?
Why should they make decisions about his life when I have been his life partner?
Why should my rights to his pension benefit be less because we are gay?
We are not a threat to heterosexuals - all gay men and women were born from a such a liaison. We do not choose to be gay - we are born gay.
CNS, Durham, England
As a gay man myself and in the same relationship for the past 15 years I fully support the equal rights issue with regard to housing, taxation etc. What I cannot agree with is any notion of "gay marriage". As an unconventional group gay people of either sex don't need to accept the conventions of fellow heterosexuals. We don't need to make vows but where we have demonstrated a commitment to each other and entered into all the trappings that go with that commitment then we should have some legal redress when, like heterosexual couples, things go wrong. Besides which I look terrible in white!
Symbolic as this register is, it is a great stepping stone for gay society, and perhaps after six months, it should be adopted at least by all the major cities of the UK cos we don't all live in London unfortunately. I hope eventually I will be able to marry my partner legally with all the status of the hetero marriage.
Britain seems obsessed with discussing "gay rights". How about focussing on getting the divorce rate down rather than further diluting marriage?
All unmarried partners face legal uncertainties and inheritance difficulties, not just gay couples. What they are seeking is not equality with heterosexual partnerships, but with heterosexual marriages. I don't see why gay couples should be singled out for such treatment when I, living with a partner, cannot inherit anything of his, not even the house we live in, should something happen to him. If we are to accept this kind of change, then it should apply to all partners who live together regardless of their sexual orientation. The law should be changed to enable anyone who has lived with a partner in a full relationship for a period of time to have the same rights as a married couple in terms of inheritance, taxation and pensions.
All marriages should be contractual. If people want to also have a religious ceremony, fine. But it is not a proper role of government to reward or punish people based on marital status. This includes taxes, immigration laws, and several other areas.
I have been in a same sex relationship for the last 7 years. As with our heterosexual counterparts we both contribute to society through taxation, direct and indirect. We contribute to our local community and to the wider society around us - yet my partner would not be allowed to sign consent forms in hospital, for example, yet he knows me better than my family. Living wills are all well and good, as long as they are recognised. We don't want different rights, we want equal rights.
Yes. Let's just get on with progress eventually the luddites with come to accept it as perfectly normal.
Absolutely not! Normal heterosexuals will soon be in the minority and I do not agree with anything that promotes gays. Even top Tory leaders are having to change their stance due to the fear of losing votes.
I have learned to become more and more liberal on this particular matter and it is really a simple case of 'each to their own'. I have tried but failed to find a really good reason why these people should not have a recognised civil marriage. If heterosexuals can have it, why shouldn't they?
Of course same-sex relationships should have the same legal standing as heterosexual ones. Why shouldn't they? If two people want to share their lives together, the state should support this. Homosexuality is not going to go away and it is high time that gay people have ABSOLUTE EQUALITY under the legal system. Anything less is prejudice.
Ross, Scotland, UK
If you deny gay couples equal legal and financial rights and regard their union as a lesser version of a straight one, you may as well take away the rest of their human rights and brand them as sub-humans.
If 2 people want to spend the rest of their lives together they should be able to set up a legal union to remove the financial/ legal uncertainties. However I do not believe they should be able to get married in church.
Of course the law should recognise gay relationships. It is hard enough being gay in this country without the law basically deciding it is wrong.
Andy Millward, UK
I am gay and have a partner. I believe the law should be changed so that we can have equal opportunities with heterosexuals. This present law is a bit old fashioned and should be changed.
Yes of course they should. The only differences between a loving homosexual relationship and a loving heterosexual relationship are firstly objection on religious grounds (which most people don't believe in anyway) and secondly that homosexual couples cannot (naturally) produce children, but many heterosexual relationships do not produce children anyway.
Most objections to this will be grounded in bigotry or religious beliefs, neither of which should stop Britain developing and moving into the future along with our European neighbours who have already taken this courageous step for human rights.
I don't think homosexual relationships should be 'recognised'. It's a perversion.
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