Civil Partnership Rights
When the British government introduced new legislation in 2005 it placed civil partnership rights on almost equal footing with marriage rights. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 gave same sex partnerships certain legal rights that were not previously available under the law.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004With the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 the government recognised the rights of same sex couples. Civil partnerships cannot be called marriages under the new law but civil partnerships that are registered will be recognised by the law, and rights will exist for the partners. Prior to the Civil Partnership Act same sex couples were not recognised under the law. Even if they were registered as a couple they did not have the same legal status as married heterosexuals.
Civil Partnerships and RightsSame sex couples who are registered now have many of the same legal rights as those granted to married heterosexuals. These rights will include:
- Employment benefits, tax credits, child support and other income benefits
- State and occupational pensions for both partners
- Parental responsibility for the other partner’s child if applied for
- Tenancy agreements
- Responsibility regarding maintenance for children
- The same tax rules that applies to married couples
- Next of kin rights when visiting a partner in hospital
- Recognition of life assurance policies
Civil Partnership ControversyWhen the Civil Partnership Act was introduced there was protest from certain sectors. Certain Christian groups were angered by the new legal status granted to same sex partnerships. Christian groups felt that gay partnerships undermined the traditional views of marriage. Others felt that these rights were unfair towards long term relationship couples who were not married and do not have these rights.
A Civil Rights StruggleIn terms of civil rights, the civil partnership rights issue is similar to the struggle for equality with regards to other cases of discrimination. There will always be groups that are opposed to the freedom and equality granted to others. Although there are protestors such as Christian organisations, there are also groups who feel that the partnership act is not equal enough. The fact that there is no actual mention of the word “marriage” in this legislation means that the fight for equality for same sex couples has still not ended.
Rights and ObligationsThe rights, responsibilities and obligations that come with same sex civil partnerships do not end when the partnership is dissolved. When a civil partnership ends, both partners will still have rights and responsibilities such as child maintenance to consider. These rights did not exist prior to the partnership act. Legal recognition means that legal action can be taken in cases of non payment of child maintenance.
Co-Habiting Couples and RightsA number of groups were upset that the legal rights granted in marriages and civil partnerships are not available to co-habiting couples. Many people still assume that long term co-habiting couples have similar legal rights under common law marriage. In fact, common law marriage is a myth and does not legally exist. Couples who live together have very little legal rights and unfortunately they usually only realise this when a break-up occurs.
Co-habiting couples should make themselves aware of the rights that exist with regards to property and child maintenance. A campaign called ‘Living Together’ is available on the Advicenow website. This website has information and advice on the legal rights that exist for couples who live together on a long term basis.
Anyone who supports equality and freedom will support the fight for equality that led to the Civil Partnership Act 2004. The introduction of this act is another step towards a more equal and free United Kingdom. At this time the government does not permit the use of the word marriage when it comes to same sex couples. For many civil rights activists the struggle for equality for same sex couples will not be over until this issue has been addressed.