Gay Partnership Bill proposed for UK
The government today tabled the bill announced in the Queen's Speech opening this session of parliament to provide for civil partnerships for gays in England and Wales. The law would provide for many of the rights currently available only to heterosexual partners who marry - the surviving partner would benefit from a dead partner's pension and grant them next of kin rights in hospitals. It would also exempt them from inheritance tax on a partner's home. There will be a mechanism for dissolving partnerships, similar to divorce for married couples and it will oblige provision to be made for the maintenance of a partner's children should the partnership be dissolved.
So far as Scotland is concerned, the Scottish Executive announced at the time of the Queen's Speech that it did not plan to legislate separately on what is a devolved matter, but would propose that Scotland would simply adopt the legislation passed at Westminster for England and Wales - as both the SNP and LibDems (who are in any case in coalition with Labour in Edinburgh) this is highly unlikely to pose any difficulty here.
There will be one major difference between the legislation as it applies in England and Wales and as it applies in Scotland - as with heterosexual marriage, the civil partnerships legislation in Scotland will provide for 16- and 17-year old gay couples to register their partnerships without parental approval, something that will be required in England and Wales (just as it is for heterosexual marriages). It is speculated that, as a result, gay 16- and 17- year olds from England and Wales will head 'north of the border', just as has happened for centuries with young people heading for Gretna Green to get married.
All this is fine and dandy and I am pleased this will probably happen. But until it is passed I don't plan to break out the champagne - although Michael Howard (Conservative Leader) has said he personally will vote for this legislation it is not clear that some other Tory MPs will stifle their objections, or indeed that the few Labour MPs who probably object, too, will similarly choose to acquiesce without a struggle. Then there is the question of how this legislation may fare in the House of Lords. In summary I am optimistic, but cautiously so.