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EDITIONS
Friday, 6 December, 2002, 15:15 GMT
Sir Nigel's partner welcomes 'terrific' news
Trevor Bentham and Sir Nigel Hawthorne
Trevor Bentham had a huge tax bill when Sir Nigel died

Plans to improve the legal status of same-sex couples have been welcomed by the long-term partner of the actor Sir Nigel Hawthorne, who died last year.

Trevor Bentham told BBC News Online that moves to introduce the first officially recognised register of gay relationships and the same tax rights as married couples were "terrific".

He first spoke out about the "terrible cruelty" of inheritance tax following Sir Nigel's death in December of last year.

Neither Nigel nor I were in favour of getting married

Trevor Bentham
While married couples are able to inherit one another's property without paying tax, gay and other unmarried couples have to pay 40% of everything above 250,000.

It is a problem which faces thousands of people every year, including 81-year-old Michael Browning, who lost his partner of 50 years, Anthony Wallis, in August.

Mr Browning also supported a new "record of relationships" for gay couples and called for a complete overhaul of current laws, which were "clearly founded on prejudice".

'Wretched'

Mr Bentham said his lack of rights following Sir Nigel's death left him feeling as though they had been nothing more than flatmates in the eyes of the law.

Trevor Bentham
Mr Bentham thinks inheritance tax is a "terrible cruelty"
The former stage manager, who had been with Sir Nigel since 1979, said the tax demand left him in fear of losing his home.

He said that ploughing through their finances was a "wretched thing to have to do at a time of grief".

Any changes in the law will come too late to help Mr Bentham, a self-confessed "reluctant" campaigner, but he is determined to see gay couples given equality with married couples.

"If I see something wrong I get a bit 'street fighter'," he said.

"And this seemed so wrong and although I could not do anything about it for myself it seemed terrible that other people would also have to go through it."

Gay marriages

Mr Bentham said that he and Sir Nigel had taken sound financial advice about the problems they would face, but the complexity of the issues still led to sleepless nights.

We were never questioned about our relationship, it was always accepted

Michael Browning
He was not concerned about the government's decision to stop short of the introduction of official gay marriages, arguing that many blessings and ceremonies amounted to the same thing.

"Neither Nigel nor I were in favour of getting married," he added.

"We would have skipped through that bit and gone straight to the legal contract."

'Utter devastation'

Mr Bentham's views about the shortfalls of current laws are shared by many gay couples.

Mr Browning told BBC News Online that he felt "utter devastation" following the death of Mr Wallis, an 89-year-old Alzheimer's victim.

Apart from getting used to life alone after half-a-century together, the former social worker had to face the prospect that he could lose the home they shared.

The value of the west London property and a cottage they owned had soared and Mr Browning was warned he could receive an inheritance tax bill of up to 400,000.

He said: "I felt dreadful... and I still have to work it out somehow".

As far as Mr Browning is concerned the time for equality is long overdue, with the government lagging years behind public opinion.

"Among ordinary people - the people we saw every day - we were never questioned about our relationship, it was always accepted," he said.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Equality debate
Should same-sex couples have the same rights?
See also:

06 Dec 02 | Politics
06 Dec 02 | Politics
07 Oct 02 | Politics
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