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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November, 2003, 18:11 GMT
Gay couples to get joint rights
Wedding ring
Gay couples will be able to sign a document with witnesses
Same-sex partners will get similar legal rights to married couples under plans for so-called 'gay marriages'.

The Civil Partnership Bill will give legal recognition to gay couples for the first time.

The plans, announced in the Queen's Speech, come after a long campaign for equality for same sex partners.

But they have already faced criticism for failing to offer similar rights to unmarried heterosexual couples.

Inheritance questions

The plans to give gay and lesbian couples in the UK the same legal rights as married ones were outlined earlier this year.

The new rights will include pension and property entitlements if couples register their commitment in a civil ceremony.

But some campaigners are concerned there has been no pledge on offering the same exemptions to inheritance tax enjoyed by married couples.

EU countries that recognise same-sex relationships

Terry Sanderson, from the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, said: "The government is just hoping that the gay community will not notice it is being short-changed on probably the most important issue of all."

A Department of Trade and Industry spokeswoman told BBC News Online it had already announced in its consultation paper it wanted to "look at" the inheritance issue.

"It is being addressed as part of the Budget process," she said, signalling that the chancellor could announce more details next year.

No full ceremony

Schemes which recognise committed homosexual relationships have already been set up in nine EU countries.

And in June, Canada's largest province Ontario ruled that gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry there.

Under the plans, gay couples will not be entitled to a "marriage" ceremony, but will be able to sign an official document at a register office in front of the registrar and two witnesses.

The proposals went out for consultation earlier this year.

The consultation paper did not use the term "gay marriage", but the Civil Partnership Registration Scheme seemed to have been designed to be as close to a marriage contract as possible.

Gay couples would not have to live together for a certain length of time to be eligible for the rights, and if the partnership breaks up, there would be a "formal, court-based process" for dissolving it.

New rights

Under the plans set out in the consultation paper, gay couples in the UK will have:

  • Visiting rights in hospitals
  • An ability to gain parental responsibility for each other's children
  • Recognition for immigration purposes
  • Joint state pension benefits
  • Obligation to support each other financially
  • Ability to claim compensation for fatal accidents or criminal injuries
  • Recognition under inheritance and intestacy rules
  • The right to register their partner's death and continue tenancy of a property
  • Exemption from inheritance tax on a partner's home
  • Exemption from testifying against each other in court

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said: "Same-sex couples face many problems in their day-to-day lives because there is no legal recognition of their relationship...

"In many areas each partner in the couple is treated as a separate individual; they are denied rights and responsibilities that could help them to organise their lives together."

Head to head: Gay equality
06 Dec 02  |  Politics
Ontario legalises gay marriage
11 Jun 03  |  Americas
Sweden legalises gay adoption
06 Jun 02  |  Europe
Dutch gays allowed to marry
19 Dec 00  |  Europe

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