Debate & discussion: A step towards equal rights?

Submitted by Anon on 22 October, 2004 - 11:40

Government proposals on the Civil Partnership Bill were amended in the House of Lords recently, ostensibly to extend the rights that the legislation will give to same-sex couples to other domestic arrangements, such as carers. The amendments were, according to the Government, wrecking tactics. Below Outrage gives a response and Maria Exall puts forward an alternative view.

One law for all

The Lords amendments to the Civil Partnership Bill has not wrecked it or rendered it unworkable, as the government has claimed.

We welcome any extension of rights and protections to others, regardless of the motives.

The law should reflect the wide variety of domestic relationships.

The Civil Partnership Bill fails to do so. The Lords are right to extend Civil Partnerships to carers and other mutually supportive relationships, but they are wrong to exclude heterosexual couples.

That’s discrimination. Civil Partnerships should be open to everyone in a relationship of mutual care and commitment; not just gay and unmarried heterosexual couples by but any two people who live together and care for each other.

The only ethically justifiable way forward is to campaign for full legal equality for all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

This would mean that civil marriage rights would be extended to same-sex couples and that Civil Partnerships would be extended to include heterosexuals as well, including all domestic relationships of mutual support and benefit.

The principle of equality has always driven the campaign for lesbian and gay rights and we see no reason to change that.

This Bill fails to ensure equality. For example, a married heterosexual can inherit their partners full pension, calculated from the date they first began contributing, but a gay partner will only inherit a pension from the date the couple registered their relationship. Older lesbian and gay couples will be cheated out of a lifetime of contributions when one of them dies, added Mr Tatchell.

Outrage has been calling on the government to produce a compelling reason why different laws are needed for same- and opposite sex couples. The government has failed to do so.

It is precisely because there is no logically consistent argument to support an apartheid-style approach to partnerships that the government now finds itself with this dilemma and is now facing a stand-off with the Lords. This is what we warned them would happen at the outset, but they werent listening.

Nevertheless, we recognise that Lady O’Cathain and her supporters’ intentions in proposing the amendment came from a homophobic agenda which does not want to see same-sex relationships afforded moral equivalence to heterosexual ones.

We call for more amendments to the Civil Partnership Bill which will open it up to heterosexual couples as well, while renewing its call on the government to provide a compelling reason why gay couples should be banned from getting married.


Argue from a position of equality

There is no doubt that the House of Lords’ Tory homophobes wanted to wreck this mildly progressive piece of legislation. Outrage have however weighed in on the side of those who want the Bill amended to extend the rights it gives to other domestic arangements.

Apart from the fact that the Lords amendments should be seen for what they are — a blatant homophobic wrecking tactic and a great tax loophole for rich families — this is a serious misjudgement by Outrage on the main issue: how to progress lesbian, gay and bisexual (lgb) equality.

Whilst many lgb people may agree with Outrage that the Civil Partnership should be opened up to straight couples too, that is not a reason to oppose something that will provide practical, financial and legal rights that lgb people have no other way of accessing.

The issue of recognising different domestic relationships is a total red herring. It arises from a view that giving the rights to same sex couples that heterosexual couples enjoy somehow undermines our lgb difference and uniqueness. Some would call this a more libertarian approach, others would see it as internalised homophobia.

Outrage’s alternative — to recogise all domestic arrangements — is ill thought out, and carers’ organisations are not supportive of this, seeing the complications that could result. Outrage miss the main point — the Civil Partnership Bill is there to recognise same sex partnerships on the same basis as heterosexual civil marriage. Future change to the laws on relationships (maybe even thinking about the way we privilege legalised sexual relationships above others in our society) can be done from the basis of equality whatever your sexuality.

The issue of lack of equality on pensions in the Bill, particularly equal access to contributions in public sector schemes, has been largely resolved, though private sector schemes are not covered by the legislation. This was as a result of campaigning by the trade unions and within the Labour Party.

The issue of access to religious marriage has been campaigned for by the Coalition for Marriage Equality, of which Outrage (too “libertarian” for equal partnership rights apparently, but not for marriage!) is a part. However the concept of “marriage” is problematic for many lgb people.

Also there is a pragmatic reason to avoid dwelling on the symbolic (though important) evidence of equality of “gay marriage” and to stick to the concrete gains that partnership rights give. In the United States victories have been won, then lost, on the issue of gay marriage. But in many states there are no employment rights for lgb people, and no tax, financial or next-of-kin rights. An ideological war needs to be fought with religious bigots, but we are on much stronger ground if we do it from the position of equal civil rights.

Maria Exall

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