New rights for gay and lesbian couples

On 5 December 2005 the Civil Partnership Act came into force, giving gay and lesbian couples the same privileges as heterosexual married couples. This radical legislation has created a totally new legal status for gay and lesbian relationships.

The government has designed civil partnerships to be as close to marriage as possible. Gay and lesbian couples can now sign an official 'Civil Partnership' document in front of a registrar and two witnesses at their local registry office. 

Although they cannot exchange vows, the registrars do allow gay and lesbian couples to add some input into the boring registration process, but they are not allowed to infer anything religious.

If couples want to become a civil partnership, they must first apply to their local registry office and will then have to wait for a period of 15 days for their civil partnership application to be processed.

The advantages of these civil partnerships is that they allow gay and lesbian couples to gain new pension rights, grant next-of-kin rights in hospitals and exemptions from inheritance tax on a partner's home.

Meg Munn, the deputy Equality Minister at the time, said that it was 'ridiculous that we have had a system that does not recognise the relationship of a gay and lesbian couple who may have lived together for 20 years...One partner could be excluded from the funeral if the other died, or lose their joint home because of inheritance tax.'

Civil partnerships will now be treated in the same way as married couples in relation to tax, social security benefits (civil partners will be viewed as spouses rather than couples who are living together who are assessed as two single people), immigration and adoption. 

Under the intestacy rules, it also allows a partner to have rights over their partner's estate if they dies. However, do be aware that it's still not automatic that your partner will inherit all your wordly goods, so it's still in your best interests to make a Will.

Like marriage, the civil partnership can also be dissolved in the same way as a divorce. However, there is a difference in that one of the grounds for divorce will be omitted. This is the adultery ground as this only refers to an unfaithful act of intercourse, which has to be heterosexual.

Published on: June 27, 2008

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