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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 14:54 GMT


UK

Is gay equality any closer?

Will gays soon enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals?

Equality with heterosexuals has long been a goal for gays, and events in recent weeks seem to have brought that day closer than ever.

Gay campaigners are celebrating the developments and believe they are now making progress.

David Allison from pressure group Outrage said: "Public attitudes are changing and this is having an effect on lawmakers."

Last week the House of Lords ruled that homosexual couples do count as families as far as housing law is concerned.


[ image: Five-year legal battle ends in victory for Martin Fitzpatrick]
Five-year legal battle ends in victory for Martin Fitzpatrick
In a test case, the Law Lords said that former Royal Navy serviceman Martin Fitzpatrick had the right to tenancy of a flat belonging to his long-time male partner, who died five years ago.

The automatic transfer of such property rights previously applied to only married heterosexuals or members of the deceased's family.

The judgement has increased pressure on the government to legislate for gay and unmarried straight couples to share the rights enjoyed by those joined in marriage.

Recognising "registered partnerships" would give the unmarried a new status in regards to tax, pensions and inheritance laws.

A clause for resentment

This week also saw the government vow to repeal the controversial Section 28, a clause of the Local Government Act 1986 banning councils from intentionally promoting or encouraging homosexuality.


[ image: Pressure continues on the government to address gay issues]
Pressure continues on the government to address gay issues
This much-reviled provision, brought in under Margaret Thatcher, has long soured relations between the current government and gay activists.

In the United States, a gay couple from Essex have both been named as father on the birth certificates of their surrogate twins.

Although this US court ruling does not directly effect UK law, it may fuel calls for similar rights in Britain, along with access to adoption for gay couples.

Much left to do

Laura Willoughby of Stonewall said: "Despite the great things that have happened in the last week there is still much to do."

Gay rights campaigners are particularly keen to see the government push through legislation on the age of consent for homosexual men.


[ image: It is illegal for gay men under 18 to have sex]
It is illegal for gay men under 18 to have sex
The Lords have twice rejected bills to lower the age at which gay men can have sex legally. While straight 16-year-olds can legally embark on sexual relationships, their gay counterparts must wait a further two years.

The government has pledged to succeed in changing the law.

Activists are also demanding that laws concerning gay men caught having sex in public be brought into line with those governing the straight community.

"Gay men can be charged with gross indecency, whilst heterosexuals get a milder charge," said Ms Willoughby.

Discrimination in the workplace

Many campaigners still point to discrepancies in employment law, which does not view discrimination on grounds of sexuality in the same way as cases involving race, sex or disability.


[ image: The US armed forces share the UK's stance on gay recruits]
The US armed forces share the UK's stance on gay recruits
A recent European Court of Human Rights ruling which outlawed the British's military's ban on gays has halted the dismissals of existing personnel. The armed services are still not compelled to employ homosexual recruits.

Outrage's David Allison warns that not all of the groups aims can be achieved by legislation alone: "What one government can do, another government can undo."

"I think equality will be achieved in time, but we can't be complacent and say everything is fully into place."



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31 Oct 99 | UK Politics
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Outrage


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