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Friday, 6 December, 2002, 23:02 GMT
Gay rights plan receives backing
A signing at last year's launch for London's same sex register
Gay couples have long called for legal recognition
Plans to grant gay and lesbian partners many of the same rights as married couples have been broadly welcomed.

MPs from all parties joined pressure groups to back the UK Government proposals for legally-recognised civil partnerships.

This seems to be equating gay relationships with marriage and I think that is very wrong

Colin Hart
Christian Alliance
But there was opposition from religious groups, with one describing the idea as "very wrong".

Barbara Roche, the Minister for Social Exclusion and Equalities, says there is a strong case for allowing same-sex couples to register their relationships.

Co-habiting couples do not currently receive the same tax breaks or entitlements that married couples enjoy, including access to a partner's pension.

Civil partnerships could give homosexual couples property and inheritance rights for the first time.

The plans would apply to England and Wales, with the Scottish Executive saying it would examine the proposals, though it has no current plans for similar steps.

Under the government's proposals, those who register their partnership will also receive next-of-kin status, without which partners cannot be consulted about hospital treatment.

The government is set to unveil detailed proposals for change next summer and consult on the issue before bringing in legislation.

Any bill would be likely to run into opposition in the House of Lords.

There is already a register for gay couples in London - but it does not confer legal rights.

Mrs Roche says the idea is not about being politically correct but about recognising how society has changed and sending a powerful message against homophobia.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There are a number of people in gay relationships, in lesbian relationships, who are in loving relationships but their partnerships have no recognition in law.

Barbara Roche
Roche: Change would send a strong message against homophobia
"What I am seeking to do is to say I think there is a strong case for considering a civil partnership registration scheme."

Mrs Roche said that many gay people had been refused hospital visits or excluded from funerals, while others had had to sell their homes to pay inheritance tax.

Eight European Union countries, Canada and several American states already gave legal status to civil partnerships, said Mrs Roche.

A new survey of British social attitudes this week suggested a "dramatic" shift in the way the public view homosexuality.

We certainly welcome it and would hope that the government will go on and recognise these relationships in full

David Allison, spokesman for OutRage!

In 1985, 70% of people thought homosexuality was "always" or "mostly" wrong.

Now that view is shared by under half (47%) of people, while a third of people says it is "not wrong at all", suggested the National Centre for Social Research survey.

Some religious groups, however, are set to oppose moves to put gay relationships on a firmer legal footing.

Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, told Today he was sad about the plans "because marriage is supported by the state because it is a relationship for the bringing up of children".

"This seems to be equating some relationships, namely gay relationships, with marriage and I think that is very wrong," he said.

Reverend Lyndon Bowring, of the Christian charity Care, said the move sent the "wrong signals" to society and children in particular.

"There are some relationships that we should be promoting and others we should not be promoting," he told the BBC.

Other critics suggested it would not help unmarried heterosexual couples, or other people whose lives were mutually entwined.

Welcome move

In contrast, the plans were welcomed by Sacha Deshmukh of gay rights group Stonewall.

Mr Deshmukh told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are very pleased with these proposals that look like they are going to be coming forward next summer."

Oliver Letwin
For the Tories, Letwin said practical grievances should be tackled

He said marriage had "huge cultural and religious connotations" and was a different area.

"What we are talking about here is civil partnership registration - the ability to have financial rights, legal rights which give you protection as a couple," he added.

David Allison, spokesman for gay rights campaigners OutRage!, also praised the proposal and hoped ministers would go on to "recognise these relationships in full".

Gareth Crossman, from civil rights group Liberty, also described that plan as "a welcome move".

'Serious practical grievances'

Those sentiments were backed by Conservative shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin.

Mr Letwin told Today: "Whilst we attach a huge importance to the institution of marriage and want to keep that as it is, we do recognise that gay couples suffer from some serious practical grievances."

That stance might not, however, find favour with some of Mr Letwin's fellow Tories.

The move was supported too by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Evan Harris. But he urged ministers to ensure unmarried heterosexual couples too were equal before the law.

The BBC's Niall Dickson
"It's those long-standing relationships that stand to gain"
Oliver Letwin, shadow home secretary
"We do recognise gay couples suffer from some serious grievances"
Barbara Roche MP, Minister for Social Exclusion
"Society has moved on"

Equality debate
Should same-sex couples have the same rights?
Should gay couples get the same rights?



3524 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Actor Sir Nigel Hawthorne's long term partner welcomes plans to improve the legal status of same-sex couples
Equality move 'terrific'

See also:

15 Feb 02 | UK
06 Dec 02 | Politics
05 Sep 02 | UK
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