NY Times, December 5, 2005
New British Law Allows Same-Sex Civil Partnerships
By ALAN COWELL
LONDON, Dec. 5 - From Brighton to Birmingham and beyond, gay and
lesbian couples began registering today for the first ceremonies later
this month permitting a form of same-sex marriage in Britain.
As a new law permitting what are called civil partnerships came into
effect, at least 1,200 couples scheduled ceremonies to take place
beginning Dec. 19 in Northern Ireland, Dec. 20 in Scotland and Dec. 21
in England and Wales.
"This is an important piece of legislation that gives legal
recognition to relationships which until now were invisible in the
eyes of the law," Meg Munn, a government minister, said.
The Times of London, once the staid voice of the establishment,
extended the "Births, Marriages and Deaths" column in its Court and
Social Register pages today to included a new category "Civil
Partnerships." In it, two male couples and a female couple announced
Some of the first to register were couples in longstanding
relationships like Roger Lockyer, 77, and Percy Steven, 66, of central
"Britain has been in the Dark Ages over this, but today we have made
the first step into the 21st century," Mr. Steven, a former actor and
lecturer, told the Press Association news agency.
The largest number of registrations, 510, was recorded in Brighton on
the south coast. In a sampling of registrations elsewhere, 140 couples
registered in central London and 5 in Aberdeen, in the north of
The law allows gay couples in civil partnerships to benefit from some
of the same financial advantages as heterosexual couples - like tax
breaks on inherited real estate and pension rights. The ceremony will
resemble civil marriages between heterosexuals performed in a register
But a broader significance was seen by some of those registering
today. "It is very important to the heterosexual community to realize
that there are homosexual couples and give them their due rights," Mr.
Homosexuality is still a divisive issue within the Anglican church,
and soccer crowds have been singled out as instigators of homophobic
abuse. Generally, however, homosexuality seems more accepted than a
generation ago. The British military lifted a ban on openly gay people
five years ago.
The rock star Elton John has announced plans to enter into a civil
partnership on Dec. 21 with his longtime partner, David Furnish, a
"It is a major, major change," Mr. Furnish said in a recent interview
with the gay men's lifestyle magazine Attitude. "It is one of the
defining issues of our times. And I applaud Britain for embracing the
diversity of our society."
Across Europe, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain have, like Canada,
enacted laws legalizing same-sex marriage, but other countries offer
gay men and lesbians forms of partnership with more restricted rights
than heterosexual marriage. In 1999, France introduced a civil
contract for cohabiting couples irrespective of their gender, and
Germany has enacted legislation for "life partnerships" for gay
people. Elsewhere, South Africa's highest court ruled last week that
the prohibition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
In the United States, federal law does not recognize same-sex unions,
and many states define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. But
others have introduced their own legislation.
Same-sex marriage is now legal is Massachusetts. Connecticut followed
Vermont last September in recognizing same-sex civil unions, and
California has a broad domestic partnership law.