Gay Rights Milestone

// 5 December 2005

Today gay and lesbian couples can register for civil partnerships for the first time in the UK \x96 although the ceremonies will only begin to take place in two weeks time, just before Christmas. This long-awaited milestone will effectively give registered same-sex couples the same rights as married couples \x96 the partnerships are marriage in all but name, giving the same rights (inheritance) and responsibilities (financial responsibility if the partnership is dissolved \x96 ie in case of divorce).

So, today\x92s papers \x96 and TV news \x96 are full of wonderful stories about couples finally tying the knot. And, of course, about the multi-million pound industry that is springing up to supply the market with wedding cards and cakes and all sorts of wedding paraphernalia tailored to same-sex couples. So \x96 does it matter that this isn\x92t marriage? Some argue that the name civil partnership implies that the relationship it formalizes has a lesser status than marriage. But this is only designed to placate what the Independent calls the \x91reactionary right\x92 in its editorial today. And it\x92s made the legislation focus on granting real-terms equality, and maybe taken the bite out of any conservative (with a small c) objections. As the Guardian observes today, civil partnerships have been introduced \x96 thankfully \x96 without anyone much complaining. In fact, even the tabloids and the Tory party have avoided their usual level of stupidity over anything to do with homosexuality and LGBT rights. Maybe by using a different term, the UK has bypassed the furore that has engulfed US politics over gay marriage.

From a feminist perspective, it\x92s hard to get too worked up about given how controversial marriage is anyway. No doubt there will be many straight, feminist couples out there who wish that the legislation had been extended to cover them (probably this is also down to Fear of the Christian Right \x96 after all, if straight men and women are opting out of marriage and into something with the same legal benefits but none of the religious and historical baggage that makes it so problematic, maybe it would actually undermine that institution).

But anyway, all of this is beside the point \x96 we have civil partnerships now, and I suspect that this will become one of Labour’s defining (positive!) moments in power. They have set the bar that much higher for civil rights in this country.

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