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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 15:17 GMT
Gay couples could get register
The first same sex register ceremony run by the Greater London Authority
The London example could be rolled out nationwide
The possible introduction of a register for same sex couples is being considered by the government but ministers say there are no plans to legalise gay marriages.

Baroness Sally Morgan, the minister in charge of the Cabinet Office's Equality Unit, said the government was looking at the register set up by London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

There are clearly areas where most people would recognise that at the moment there is some unfairness

Baroness Morgan
Downing Street says the government has no "settled view on the issue" but is watching the London register with interest.

Baroness Morgan has hinted in an interview that gay couples could get pension and tenancy rights.

Growing debate

She told the website: "There is an increasing public debate on rights for same sex partnerships.

"I think it's one that the government is watching with interest because there are clearly areas where most people would recognise that at the moment there is some unfairness."

Gay marriages are allowed in some other European countries
Ministers rule out gay marriage
But there would need to be real examination of the detail before any progress was made, stressed the minister.

And she ruled out the possibility of gay marriages in the UK - a stance repeated by Downing Street.

"There's no suggestion whatsoever that the Government would move on the issue of marriage," said Baroness Morgan.

'No marriage change'

"We are very clear that marriage remains as it is and there would be no change in that."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman told reporters on Friday that Lady Morgan's comments showed there was space for discussion and reflected the growing debate in society.

He continued: "The government has not formed a settled view but is watching the debate closely and there is going to be a Private Members Bill brought forward in due course.

"We will set out a response to that Bill in the normal way."

He added: "In the first instance, we are looking at the sort of partnership registration there is in London.

"Clearly if other issues are raised the government will look at them."

First register

The first two gay couples to enlist on the London register did so at a ceremony in September.

The Greater London Authority is the first UK authority to recognise such relationships formally.

Mr Livingstone believes the scheme will help in disputes over issues such as housing, taxation, inheritance rights, pensions, immigration and family law.

'UK lags behind'

Lesbian and gay equality group Stonewall said it was sensible for the government to pay attention to the developments of same sex relationship registers on the continent.

"The UK lags behind most of the European Union on this," she said.

But a spokeswoman did not think Lady Morgan had made any new announcement and much more discussion and work on the issue was needed.

Most of the public agreed it was ridiculous long-term partner people were not entitled to visit a dying long-term partner in hospital, she argued, stressing help was needed for unmarried couples generally.

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