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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Making same-sex love official
Photo by Richard Ansett of Ron and Roger, who signed the register
An exhibition celebrates London's partnership register
Same-sex relationships were first officially recognised in the UK more than seven months ago. Does this bring gay marriage any closer?

When Alexander Cannell and Ian Burford signed the London Partnerships Register last September, it marked more than just 38 happy years together.

As the first gay couple in the UK to receive the blessing of the capital, campaigners hoped their union would be the first step down the road to giving same-sex relationships the same legal status as marriage.

Dutch women going up the aisle
As of April 2001, Dutch gays could legally marry
Seven months on, more than 200 couples - both gay and straight - have signed the register; other cities are looking to follow London's lead; and the major political parties have come out in favour of giving gays and unmarried couples similar rights to those who are married.

The Liberal Democrats led the way in 2000, making it party policy to give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexuals over inheritance, adoption and property.

The government has taken up the cause of civil partnerships; and the Tories' shadow home secretary, Oliver Letwin, has said that gays and unmarried couples should have "many of the rights of married couples".

Seeking equality

Although it is hoped that the register will provide additional evidence in any dispute or civil action over tenancy, pension or immigration rights, it falls well short of having full legal authority.

Signing up
A similar scheme in Paris attracted more than 100,000 gay couples
Co-habiting couples do not get the same tax breaks or entitlements that married couples enjoy, such as access to a partner's pension. A number of test cases aiming to get recognition of same-sex relationships are planned under the Human Rights Act.

But steps have been made towards equal rights.

A number of organisations have been looking at granting same-sex couples the same pension rights and staff discounts they give married employees.

Paperwork for the children's tax credit, which replaces the married couples allowance, will require applicants to refer to their to spouses as "partners", not husbands and wives.

And the government has eased immigration rules to make it easier for gay partners to enter the UK.

Love, not marriage

To celebrate the progress which has been made, photographer Richard Ansett is holding an exhibition inspired by the London register.

Photo by Richard Ansett of women holding hands on a roof
The poses are reminiscent of the Arnolfini Portrait
It features couples who have registered their relationships in poses that the photographer says are based on the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, which hangs in the National Gallery.

Called Ron and Roger after one of the couples, it runs for one week from 22 April at the Candid Arts Gallery in Islington, north London.

Roger Fisher, 66, a former nurse, says he and Ron Strank, 68, signed the register last November as a personal and political statement.

"It gave recognition that we've been together for 42 years - much longer than many of our straight relatives - and it was a step forward for official recognition that our relationship is as good as anybody else's."

After being together for so long it was a nice thing to be able to do

Roger Fisher
In the company of six close friends, the pair registered their relationship then went for a champagne supper at the Royal Academy.

"It was very pleasant," Roger says. "After being together for so long it wasn't a great emotional upheaval, but a nice thing to be able to do.

"Not that it's going to carry any legal clout - but if sufficient people register, then it might have moral force when the legislation changes in the fullness of time."

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15 Feb 02 | UK
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