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EDITIONS
 Friday, 6 December, 2002, 16:08 GMT
Gay 'marriages': What could change?
gay couple
Civil partnerships would give gays inheritance rights
The Government has announced plans for same-sex couples to be granted many of the same rights as married ones as part of a legally recognised 'civil partnerships' scheme.

Consultation is due to begin next summer but ministers say they have not decided on what rights the scheme would give gay couples. BBC News Online looks at a number of the areas likely to be discussed.


'Marriage'

Many gay couples already have their relationships blessed and in London they can also register - although doing so brings no extra legal rights.

German lesbian couple Gudrun Pannier, left, and Angelika Baldow, right, in 2001
Same sex couples in Germany can now sign partnership registers

London Mayor Ken Livingstone's move was widely interpreted as a symbolic gesture to the government - and prompted widespread calls for UK-wide reform.

People in same-sex relationships cannot marry and weddings held abroad are not recognised in the UK.

The government's plans do not include the introduction of gay marriages, but an official register of relationships will exist for the first time.

Taxation

Married couples benefit from a spousal exemption from inheritance tax.

Same-sex couples, after the first 242,000 (2001 figure), pay tax at 40%.

Some couples are therefore forced to sell their home to pay inheritance tax.

The late Nigel Hawthorne's partner, Trevor Bentham, has talked of the cruelty of laws which landed him with a large inheritance tax bill while he was grieving.

Pensions & social security

Many occupational pension schemes make no provisions for surviving same-sex partners to receive 'survivor benefits'.

Gay men
Rights could include tax breaks and next of kin status

The possibility of changing such schemes has been made easier by a change in the Inland Revenue rules.

These now state same-sex partners can be considered dependents and a growing number of private companies are changing their occupational schemes as a result.

Next of kin

Whereas a spouse can register the death of a husband or wife, a same-sex partner can only register the death by calling themselves someone "present at the death" or "the person making funeral arrangements".

Hospitals also do not recognise same-sex partners and therefore do not have to give them any visiting rights.

The Government has signalled its intention to give same-sex partners 'next of kin' status.

Leaving a will

Rules governing what happens to someone's estate when they die without leaving a will make no provisions for same-sex partners.

Under the Law Reform (Succession) Act 1995 unmarried partners were allowed to make an application for a share of the deceased partner's estate, but the position of same-sex partners was radically altered.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Louise Bevan
"Under new plans they will be granted the same property and inheritance rights"
  Sacha Deshmukh from campaign group Stonewall
"There's already case law that's moving this forward"
  Oliver Letwin, Shadow Home Secretary
"We do recognise gay couples suffer from some serious grievances"
See also:

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