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Same-sex civil partnerships & marriages in the UK

Brief history and timeline.
Detailed timeline: 2001 to 2003 activities leading
up to the release of the civil partnership bill's text.

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A brief history and timeline:

There were two bills proposed during Parliament's 2001-2002 session that would have given limited recognitions to same-sex couples:

bullet 2001-JUN-29: The Gay Financial Network reported that London's "Same-sex couples will be able to have their relationship officially recognized for the first time under a scheme to be launched later" in 2001. 5
bullet 2001-SEP-6: London Mayor Ken Linvingstone introduced the London Partnerships Register which allowed same-sex couples to register their relationship. It did not bring them any extra rights. Their relationship was recognized only within the city borders of London. Ian Burford, a retired actor, and Alexander Cannell, a senior male nurse,  and a lesbian couple became the first two couples to register their partnershipa in a civil ceremony organized by the mayor. Burford and Cannell had been together for 38 years. 6
bullet Jane Griffiths introduced her Relationships (Civil Registration) Bill to the House of Commons on 2001-OCT-24. It would have registered same-sex or opposite-sex relationships between two people who were cohabiting. It did not proceed.


2001-NOV-5: Lady Morgan, the federal minister for women and equality, said she was considering introducing a nationwide register for same-sex partners. She said that her purpose was to extend the pension and inheritance benefits that married couples receive. 7

bullet Lord Lester introduced his Civil Partnerships Bill to the House of Lords on 2002-JAN-09. It would have recognized "civil partnerships" between cohabiting couples. He decided to not proceed with the bill after the government promised to study the matter. "1

The British Broadcasting Corporation reported on 2003-JUN-30 that the British government had issued a consultation paper on same-sex relationships. It is titled "Civil Partnership - A framework for the legal recognition of same sex couples." "2 The article described plans to create a system of "civil partnerships" for gays and lesbians that would parallel the existing system of opposite-sex marriages. It would be called a Civil Partnership Registration Scheme. However, relationship registration would not be called a marriage and partnershipped couples could not claim to be married. All three main British political parties: Conservative, Liberal Democrats, and Labour were in general agreement with this proposal.

During the Queen's Speech on 2003-NOV-26, the government announced its intention to introduce a Civil Partnership bill. 1

The Civil Partnership Bill:

bullet Covers only same-sex couples. The Government decided that since co-habiting opposite-sex couples had the option of marrying, they would not be allowed to form civil partnerships.

bullet Was preceded by a government consultation paper "Civil Partnership: A framework for the legal recognition of same sex couples" in 2003-JUN.

bullet Was introduced to the House of Lords by the government on 2004-MAR-30 as Bill 53 of the 2003-2004 session.

bullet Was enlarged by the House of Lords to include close relatives and caregivers, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, who are both over the age of 30 and have been living together continually for over 12 years. Baroness Scotland of Asthal noted that this amendment would allow a woman to form a partnership with her grandfather; she would have her own mother as a step-daughter! This amendment was overturned later by the House of Commons. "1

bullet Was passed by the House of Lords in its third reading on 2004-JUL-01.

bullet Had its first reading in the House of Commons on 2004-JUL-05 as Bill 132 of the 2003-2004 session.

bullet Passed its second reading on 2004-OCT-12 by a vote of 426 to 49.

bullet Passed its third and final reading on 2004-NOV-09., in spite of a wrecking attempt by some Conservative backbenchers.

bullet Was approved by the House of Lords on 2004-NOV-17 by a vote of 251 to 136 in spite of still another last-minute wrecking attempt.

bullet Received Royal Assent on 2004-NOV-18

bullet The government announced on 2005-FEB-21 that same-sex partners would be able to apply for partnership on or after 2005-DEC-05, and be "Civil Partnershipped" 16 days later.

bullet The law covers all of the United Kingdom. However, there are minor procedural differences to civil partnerships in Northern Ireland and Scotland because of their unique legal systems.  "3

There is a 15 day "cooling-off" period before couples can be "Civil Partnershipped." According to the Government News Network, same-sex couples were first permitted to enter civil partnerships on 2005-DEC-21, in time for Winter Solstice and Christmas celebrations.

The UK became the tenth European Union country to permit same-sex couples to either enter into conventional marriages or civil unions with similar or equivalent privileges.

The media in the UK subsequently largely dropped the term "civil partnerships" and adopted the terms "to wed," "wedding" "pink wedding," and "gay wedding." "4

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Detailed history: 2001-NOV: Government's long-range plan introduced:

The government's minister for women and equality, Baroness Sally Morgan, mentioned during an interview on 2001-OCT-31 that the Labour government was closely following the practices of many other European countries which were registering same-sex relationships. Those countries granted same-sex couples privileges that had been previously reserved as special rights only for opposite-sex married couples. She said:

"There's no suggestion whatsoever that the government would move on the issue of marriage. We are very clear that marriage remains as it is....There is an increasing public debate on rights for same-sex partnerships," she said, "and I think it's one that the government is watching with interest because there are clearly areas where most people would recognize that at the moment there is some unfairness."

Reaction by conservative Christian individuals and groups was swift, and negative:

bullet Hugh McKinney, spokesperson for the National Family Campaign said that the plan would be "an affront to married people and their families."

bullet Ann Widdecombe, a Roman Catholic Member of Parliament said: "This would undermine the institution of marriage. Any kind of formal recognition of gay relationships would militate against marriage."

bullet Cornelia Oddie spokesperson for the Roman Catholic group Family and Youth Concern, said: "Gay rights campaigners have won yet another battle."

bullet Dr. Adrian Rogers, spokesperson for Family Focus said, "I think the promotion of homosexuality should be completely unlawful. We are not allowed to promote it in schools so how can we allow local authorities to promote the lifestyle?"

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2002-DEC: Government plan confirmed:

During 2002-DEC, Barbara Roche, the UK's Minister for Social Exclusion and Equalities, discussed government plans to grant same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples. She told the BBC's Today program that the government would publicize detailed proposals in mid-2003. She said:

"There are a number of people in gay relationships, in lesbian relationships, who are in loving relationships but their partnerships have no recognition in law....What I am seeking to do is to say I think there is a strong case for considering a civil partnership registration scheme."

In Britain, as in may other countries, gay and lesbian couples had no legal standing at the time. They are regarded as roommates. Roche described horror stories in which one partner was refused visits in hospital or were excluded from funerals. Others had to sell their homes to pay the inheritance tax which is non existent for married couples.

Some reactions to the proposal:


Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, opposed the proposa. He said:

"... marriage is supported by the state because it is a relationship for the bringing up of children.... This seems to be equating some relationships, namely gay relationships, with marriage and I think that is very wrong."

Hart appears to be unaware that many same-sex couples adopt children, and many lesbian couples conceive children through in-vitro fertilization or artificial insemination.

bullet Oliver Letwin, a representative of the Conservative party, called for same-sex couples to be given some of the rights and privileges that married couples receive, while still recognizing that marriage has:
"... huge cultural and religious connotations. ... What we are talking about here is civil partnership registration-- the ability to have financial rights, legal rights which give you protection as a couple....Whilst we attach a huge importance to the institution of marriage and want to keep that as it is, we do recognize that gay couples suffer from some serious practical grievances."
bullet Evan Harris, health spokesman for the Liberal Democrat party, said that the idea was overdue. He said: "Couples of any sex must be made equal before the law."

bullet David Allison, spokesman for the gay rights group Outrage! said: "We certainly welcome it and would hope that the Government will go on and recognize these relationships in full."

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2003-JUN: Text of government plan released:

The proposal involved a same-sex registry that committed same-sex partners could "...sign at a register office in front of the registrar and two witnesses." They would then be considered "civil partners" and receive rights and responsibilities equivalent to married couples. As with married couples, civil partners would not be compelled to testify against each other in court. In the event of a relationship breakdown, the couple could dissolve their partnership through the courts, much as married couples seek divorces. The discussion paper said:

"The government intends registered civil partnerships to be long-term, stable relationships so there would be a formal, court-based process for dissolution. The partner applying for the partnership to be dissolved would have to show that it had broken down irretrievably."

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "The Civil Partnership Bill [HL]: background and debate," House of Commons Research Paper 04/64. at: **
  2. "Civil Partnership: A framework for the legal recognition of same sex couples," Women & Equality Unit, at: **
  3. "Civil Partnership Bill," PinkProducts, at:
  4. "City to pioneer 'gay marriages'," BBC News, 2005-MAR-15, at:
  5. Terri Judd, "London to Recognize Same-Sex Couples," The Gay Financial Network, 2001-JUN-29, at:
  6. John Carvel, "London couple first to sign gay register," 2001-SEP-4, The Gay Financial Register, at:
  7. Sarah Womack, "London Considers Gay Marriage Register," 2001-NOV-5, The Gay Financial Register, at:

** These are PDF files. You may require software to read them. Software can be obtained free from:

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Copyright © 2003 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JUL-1
Latest update: 2013-MAY-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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