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LGBT rights: 'Family values' fears produce confused equality measures
CAMPAIGNERS HOPED that same-sex partners would get similar legal rights to married couples as the government published its white paper on civil partnerships this week. The changes would affect pensions, inheritance tax and property, and could also impact on social security and benefits.
Although registers of partnerships have been set up in some areas - Bath, Brighton, Liverpool, London, Manchester, north-east Somerset and Swansea - these are not recognised in law.
Many pension schemes rule out passing benefits on to surviving same-sex partners. Bereavement benefits are unavailable, too. Same-sex couples cannot gain parental responsibility for each other's children. Currently, it's left to hospital staff's discretion to recognise same-sex partners, denying visiting rights if they don't.
And, while a spouse can register the death of a husband or wife, a same-sex partner cannot be classed as 'next of kin', sometimes resulting in long-term partners being excluded from loved ones' funerals. Tenancies cannot be passed on in the event of a partner's death, and a 40% inheritance tax is levied on property, whereas the surviving member of a married couple is exempt.
That some of these cruel anomalies could end is to be welcomed. Nonetheless, the timetable for change is painfully slow. Civil registration is to be introduced in England and Wales in 2010. The situation for Scotland and Northern Ireland is as yet unclear.
There could also be a 'qualifying period' and proof of a 'stable relationship' before couples could register. That this has already been raised shows that there will be many opportunities to water down and block the proposals. We can expect hysterical denunciations from sections of the media and religious groups. We can expect opposition in the House of Lords.
The rights will apply to those who sign an official document at a register office. Ironically, this will not be available as an alternative to heterosexual marriage, so unmarried straight couples will have the least rights of all.
The government says it does not wish to 'undermine marriage and stable families' and that gay and lesbian couples don't have the choice of marriage. So pandering to the 'family values' brigade will result in discrimination against heterosexual couples!
Lesbian and gay people will welcome improvements to their rights but it would be wrong to believe that homophobic prejudice is on the way out. It is prevalent in all walks of life. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have to continually fight for our rights.
We must campaign to ensure that all couples - gay and straight, married and unmarried - enjoy full and equal partnership rights.
The Socialist Party Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Group (LGBT) demands:-
- Full repeal of Section 28
- The scrapping of all discriminatory sex education guidelines
- A massive increase in spending on sex education and health advice for young people of all sexualities
For more information on the Socialist Party LGBT Group ring Manny on 020 8988 8772 or Lionel on 020 7403 1697.
Now Repeal Section 28
WILL JULY finally see the end of Section 28 in England and Wales? Back in 1988 a few London boroughs were making small grants to lesbian and gay advice groups. Tabloid papers ranted about 'perversion on the rates' and Thatcher's Tories seized on the issue, adding a clause banning local authorities from "promoting homosexuality'' to a bill to privatise council services.
This aimed to whip up hatred towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and sow divisions between workers. Section 28 threw down the gauntlet to a whole generation of lesbians and gays.
Faced with the first major anti-gay law for 100 years, tens of thousands attended demonstrations, defiantly came out or both. Most major unions passed anti-S.28 motions and launched lesbian and gay sections.
There has never been a successful prosecution under the Section 28 but it wreaked havoc with services for the six million strong LGBT community. Many young lesbians and gays encounter prejudice and trauma with 35% getting involved in self-harm.
Subsequent legislation took schools out of council control so S.28 stopped applying in education. But its shadow still blights sex education activity, hindering the flow of neutral and positive information all young people need to lead lives free from confusion and self-hatred.
In March the Commons overwhelmingly carried a new clause to repeal S.28. An unsuccessful Tory amendment tried to replace it with a ban on 'promotion of any sexuality' - which would have allowed handfuls of parents to trigger school ballots against sex education lessons.
A campaign by LGBT groups and trade unions led to the Scottish Parliament repealing the Section. South of the border Blair tried to appease the religious right with parallel legislation prohibiting "direct promotion of sexual orientation" and forcing teachers to stress the "importance... of marriage and family life".
The words 'lesbian' 'gay' and 'bisexual' don't appear in these sex education guidelines. This tactic failed, with the House of Lords throwing out repeal but the parallel conservative sex education laws passed into law. This left the situation worse than before.
The Lords will soon vote on the latest repeal proposal and ermined bigots will try to revive Son of Section 28.
In The Socialist 5 July 2003: