Analysis: This is simply a matter of fair and equal treatment
THE Civil Partnership Act is 429 pages long. It’s one of the longest acts of parliament. It was passed in 2004, but small errors are still being found.
So was all that work done because the government wanted to create a new institution, better than anything before? No – it was done for one reason only, to deny same-sex couples access to real marriage. It is a deliberately second-class status.
Some people prefer the new status of civil partnership, with its lack of prior meanings. But marriage is seen as the gold standard for relationships. It is available via a civil ceremony from the state, or a humanist or religious ceremony.
Civil partnership is only available in a state ceremony. That’s a huge disappointment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people within those faith communities that want to marry same-sex couples, and provide the same social and legal recognition as their mixed-sex marriages.
There are other important legal differences between civil partnership and marriage. The rules for survivor’s pensions are different, meaning many bereaved civil partners get smaller pensions than bereaved spouses. And there is no standard for international recognition of civil partnerships, creating particular problems for civil partners who move abroad.
The segregation of mixed-sex and same-sex couples into separate legal frameworks causes huge problems for transsexual people. If a transsexual person is married before they transition to living in their true gender, the law requires them to divorce their husband or wife before they can obtain legal recognition of their gender. If the marriage continued, it would become legally same-sex. It’s the only case where the law requires a couple to divorce when they both want to stay married.
But above all, it is the simple fact that civil partnership is not marriage that creates the biggest problems. Civil partners repeatedly tell us that they have been treated worse than married couples. Some organisations don’t understand what civil partnership is; others say: “But it’s not a real marriage, is it?” Many civil partners have children, and the discrimination affects their children too.
Same-sex marriage would not sweep away discrimination, but would certainly remove many of the reasons it happens. It is simply a matter of fair and equal treatment for Scotland’s LGBT people and their families.
• Tim Hopkins is director of the Equality Network.
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