Same-Sex Marriage Moves Ahead

Article excerpt

Spring has sprung, summer is beginning to sing--and weddings are bursting out all over. But what happens if Joseph falls for Jack and Janet dotes on Joan? Is there a wedding on the horizon for them? Do they have a means of celebrating their love and commitment with friends and family?

All over Europe, politicians and campaigners are discussing gay weddings with the less controversial alternative of "civil unions" being given greater precedence. Only the Netherlands and Belgium offer full marriage, the real thing, to same-sex couples, but in Germany at present the justice minister is promising to introduce legislation to permit same-sex marriages, despite the opposition of conservatives in the Upper House. In France, the first French gay marriage ceremony is about to be performed by a local mayor, who is threatened with fines for breaking the law. A French gay wedding should somehow, I feel, have great style.

In Britain, as has happened in about a dozen other European countries, a law to permit civil unions for same-sex relationships is going through the legislative process. It is expected to become law by November of this year, and the first legal gay registrations are likely to take place a year or so later. It seems an occasion for joy although civil unions are one degree less than full marriage. Presumably the couple can follow their formal registration with a wedding ceremony that has no legal status, as has been happening with humanist affirmation or commitment ceremonies for many years.

What benefits will the British Civil Partnership Registration scheme bring when it becomes law? There will be immigration rights, pension rights, the right to be treated as next of kin, joint responsibility for children, inheritance rights. In short, the same rights and benefits that heterosexual couples have. Inheritance rights are particularly important (as I am personally aware): if one member of a gay or lesbian couple dies there will be tax to be paid on part of the bequest from the deceased to the survivor (there is no such tax for heterosexual couples). In a fit of parsimony, the government is not allowing full pension rights until 2010. Unions are fighting this delay. A case is also being made for civil partnership rights for heterosexual unmarried couples. …