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Gay Times Law by Clive Sanders LLB

5 : Partnership

Summary of Partnership Law

As the law now stands there is no legally recognised Partnership Registration for same-sex couples in Britain. However a new Civil Partnership Bill was introduced in March 2004 so the law will be changing very soon.

There is currently no legally recognised Partnership Registration for same-sex couples in Britain. Unmarried couples, either in heterosexual or same-sex relationships do not have the same rights as a married couples.

For example, when a married couple seperate, either through divorce, illness or death, married couples are treated differently. The courts can use the law to decide how the property should be divided, and certain tax-breaks are available to the surviving spouse.

The list of rights and special legal privilege enjoyed by married couples is long and includes the following:

  • Court administered divorce procedure
  • maintenance on separation
  • Married couples allowance
  • ability to adopt children as a couple
  • Treated as next of kin
  • Better immigration rights
  • Legal protection against employment
  • discrimination
  • automatic revocation of will on marriage
  • On intestacy a spouse inherits their partners property
  • No inheritance tax on gifts between spouses.

    What rights are there when unmarried? The answer is that there are virtually none. Sometimes general legal principles will be applied particularly as regards ownership of property. The legal concepts which apply to separation of UNMARRIED (gay or straight) couples are just the normal 'property' and 'trust' law which only look at the financial contribution and intention of the parties.

    To many it appears unfair that unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples should be discriminated against. Hence the recent move to address this inequality by providing for registration of such partnerships and the new Civil Partnership Bill introduced in March 2004.

    Same Sex Partnership registration and Commitment Ceremonies

    In 2001, the Mayor of London opened a Register of Same Sex Partnership. Although registration does not confer any of the legal rights that come with marriage (Unlike the proposed new Civil Partnership Bill), it can be used as additional evidence in any disputes or civil action that might arise over tenancy, pension or immigration rights. Local authorities all over the UK now offer Commitment Ceremonies and/or Partnership Registration and include:

    Bath & N E Somerset, Blackburn, Bournemouth, Brighton & Hove, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Darlington, Derby, Devon, Dorset, East Riding of Yorkshire, East Sussex, Kingston-Upon-Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, North Lincolnshire, Richmond-upon-Thames, South Tyneside, Suffolk, Sutton, Swansea, Telford and Wrekin and Thurrock.

    Civil Partnership Bill

    In March 2004 the government published the Civil Partnership Bill which when passed will allow same-sex couples to make a formal, legal commitment to each other by entering into a civil partnership. These partnerships will be legally recognised and a range of rights and responsibilities will flow from entering a civil partnership. These will include maintenance obligations, recognition for the purposes of life assurance, ability to succeed to tenancy rights, social security and pension benefits; and ability to gain parental responsibility for their civil partner's children.

    The process of entering a civil partnership will be administered by the local registration service. On registration, the couple will both have to sign the register in the presence of the registration officer and two witnesses.There will also be a formal, court-based process for disolving the Partnership. It is intended that the new law will appy to the whole of the UK.

    Hopefully the Bill will become law by 2005 and thereafter legally recognised partnership registration will at last be available for gays and lesbians.

    If you want to register your relationship or hold a commitment ceremony before the new law comes in many Local Authorities will do this -see list above. Your partnership however will not be legally recognised.

    The Greater London Authority encourages lesbians and gays to register with them. The register allows same-sex and mixed sex couples to register their partnerships. Both partners are formally entered into the London Partnerships Register and receive a Certificate of Registration. A party of 23 friends and family may be invited to witness your registration. You can arrange for a commitment ceremony to be performed as part of your registration. A fee of 85 is charged for the service.

    The procedure for other cities and regions allowing partnership registration is much the same with the basic fee averaging about 100 if the ceremony is held at the Registry Office. You can have your ceremony at an outside venue but at a higher cost.

    For information on the requirements, procedures and fees for all the local authorities that have Partnership Registration Schemes see the websites listed below.

    If you are a Christian "The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement" can help you arrange a blessing on your relationship and can put you in touch with a minister or priest. For Humanists you should get in touch with the Pink Triangle Trust who can advise on non-religious Humanist affirmation ceremonies.

    Since registration has no legal effect (as yet) if you are in a long term relationship you should also arrange to have mutual wills prepared (see INDEX above right), and consider having a Deed of Trust setting out your respective ownership of your assets like your house and other property. We would also recommend an Enduring Power of Attorney. (see INDEX above right)