Will the new Partnership laws always be Civil?The publicity campaign for Civil Partnerships has begun and is set to bring the biggest social revolution our society has seen in decades, but is this a step towards integration and acceptance, or a smokescreen to cover up the bigger issues in today's modern society?
'When the Civil Partnership Act 2004 comes into force on the 5th December, gay and lesbian couples over the age of 16 (with consent until the age of 18) who register their relationship will be treated the same as married heterosexual couples,' explains Victoria Payne, a specialist in the Wills and Probate Team at Eric Robinson Solicitors in Hampshire. 'This will mean that civil partners have the same rights in terms of pensions, benefits and inheritance tax.'
'Before, a gay man who had lived with his partner for 30 years could be excluded from his partner's funeral, thrown out of a house where his partner was named on the lease and any assets passed on would have been heavily taxed by the government. This is clearly wrong.'
'What people don't seem to be talking about are the further financial aspects of such a union,' continues Victoria. 'For example, a man or woman claiming social security or tax benefits will be assessed in terms of a Civil Partner's contribution, the same as that of a husband or wife.'
'I believe that any two people who have demonstrated a commitment to each other should be allowed to share the benefits of a life together without prejudice. There are concerns that gay couples are not able to register their relationship in a religious venue. This will force some people to choose between their faith and their love which is not really the social inclusion the Act sought to encourage.'
Catherine Maxfield, Partner of Eric Robinson and expert in Matrimonial law is also concerned, 'I agree that this Act is long overdue, but I cannot help but foresee problems in the courts. The statistics of long lasting marriage in this country are falling at an alarming, and ever increasing, rate and, regardless of sexuality; we are all human beings moving in the same direction.'
'Civil partnerships can end due to death, annulment or dissolved due to unreasonable behaviour, 2 years separation with consent, 5 years without or 2 years after desertion. They cannot be dissolved before their first anniversary and, unlike divorce, there is no ground of adultery. The legislation governing financial claims and maintenance is exactly the same as marriage.'
Then there is the issue of children. When the Adoption and Children Act 2002 comes into force on 30th December, a partner will be able to acquire parental responsibility for a partner's child. If both biological parents have parental responsibility for the child, agreement must be sought from both parents.
'Civil partners who have adopted their partners children are effectively in the same position as step-parents,' explains George Howard, one of Hampshire's most renowned childcare specialists. 'Should a civil partnership be dissolved, a partner will be able to apply for a joint residence order which could extend until the child is 18. If there hasn't been an adoption, after a parents' death there could be a battle between all the parties with parental responsibility for the child as to who the child will live with.'
'The dispute will be determined by the court using the principles set out under the Children Act. At the moment, the court would be unwilling to change the child's "status quo" unless there is a good reason in the best interests of the child to do so, but I do foresee problems as most judges do still tend to be middle-aged, well-off, white heterosexual men.'
The Civil Partnership Act will also have an effect in the workplace.
'Companies that offer, for example, private medical insurance that includes provision for a husband and wife need to know that the same applies to same sex partners,' says