Response to consultation on civil partnership

23rd September 2003

Dear Sir/Madam



The National Secular Society is the oldest and most active group serving the interests of the non-religious in Britain. It was established in 1866 by Charles Bradlaugh MP, and has, since then campaigned vigorously for the removal of religious privilege from public life.



1. The National Secular Society welcomes the publication of this consultation as the culmination of many years of campaigning by the gay movement. It is a long overdue recognition of gay relationships as valuable not only the individuals involved but to society as a whole.

2. We would like to express our support for the submission made by Stonewall, but we do not intend to make a detailed submission as we feel that other groups with vastly more specialised knowledge have already covered many of the legal niceties and the omissions - particularly on Inheritance and Capital gains tax.


1. Our main proposal is that the government follows the example of Belgium and Holland (and possibly Canada in the near future) and offer civil marriage to gay couples instead of a new and inferior status.

a) We have a fundamental objection to the proposals in the consultation for the denial of complete equality for gay couples. They are being offered "Civil Partnership Registration", a procedure that would create a two-tier system of legally recognised union, with the tier being offered to gay people being regarded as inferior to "real" marriage, as enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

b) What is being offered by the government is very nearly marriage in everything but name. When there is a tried and tested model available, for it to create something different makes no sense. Only minor amendments would be necessary to some legislation that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. It would be much simpler and straightforward to open up the marriage register at the local registry office for gay couples.

c) To make such a simple change would be far easier than undertaking the raft of legislative amendments being proposed in this document. We refer to the huge body of case law built up over centuries relating to marriage and the reams of regulations in which marriage is referred to. All this ground will have to be covered afresh for equivalent situations for registered partners. But in some cases this will only occur if individuals bring test cases or appeals, which are an expensive and stressful experience which in practice is often not open to those in need. All this would be unnecessary if (as we advocate) marriage were to be opened up to same sex couples.

d) We presume that the reason the government is apprehensive of making the simple change we advocate and that has been made by other countries is because of the objections from religious sources. These should be resisted as the registration process for a civil marriage has no religious component and should therefore not be the concern of the churches. Such a change will not, as religious groups scare stories have suggested, "force" churches against their will to conduct marriage services for gay couples. The Government must therefore not succumb to pressure from religious groups to, in effect, "force" gay couples to accept an inferior status.

2. Our second and final proposal is to urge that same sex couples be afforded an equivalent relief from inheritance and capital gains tax and transfers of assets between partners to that which applies already to married heterosexual couples. (We are deeply disturbed by the glaring omission of a reference to this in the consultation.) We also contend that, in the interests of equity, the date from which gay partners are to be categorised as couples and therefore receive lower state benefits should be postponed until the above tax changes have been introduced.

We will be happy to clarify any points in the above submission.

Yours faithfully,

Keith Porteous Wood
Executive Director