GAYS WIN THE RIGHT TO MARRY; but Warnings over `Sexual Apartheid'
Byline: By Pippa Crerar
GAY and lesbian couples are to be given the same rights as husbands and wives.
After a long campaign for equal treatment, gay couples will now get rights over income-related benefits, property and parental responsibility for children.
But the plans, unveiled by the Government yesterday, have been attacked for discriminating against unmarried straight couples, who are not to be awarded the same status.
Campaigners say they will create a form of 'sexual apartheid', with one law for gay couples and another for straight couples.
Gay couples will have to register their commitment in a civil ceremony signing an official document at a register office in front of two witnesses. Partners will even be able to dissolve the agreement in a form of 'divorce'.
Gay activists welcomed the civil partnerships Bill as a 'hugely symbolic step'.
And the Tories, seeking to appeal more to minorities under new leader Michael Howard, are to give their MPs a free vote on the issue.
Up to 11,000 gay and lesbian couples are expected to go through the formal ceremony over the next six years.
Civil weddings are already recognised in several European countries.
Equality Minister Jacqui Smith said the civil partnerships would give gay couples 'rights and responsibilities'. …