Issues - Gender bias - Gay Marriage Bill
Gay marriage bill 'wrecked' in Lords
Michael White and Sarah Hall
Friday June 25, 2004
The government's civil partnership bill to sanction
same-sex unions was thrown into confusion last night after
a cross-party coalition of peers and bishops voted to extend
the bill's benefits to a wide range of people who live together
in a caring family relationship.
Ministers and most gay lobbying groups were furious at what
they saw as wrecking tactics supported by Lords Tebbit and
Parkinson, as well as some homophobic clerics. They called
the amendment "unworkable". The government chief
whip, Lord Grocott, promised to send the bill to the Commons
quickly so the change can be reversed.
That may not be easy. With an election looming the parliament
acts cannot be threatened to ensure that MPs prevail. The
acts cannot be used against bills which are introduced in
the Lords, as this one was.
Supporters of the amendment, which was backed by 91 Tory peers
and 43 crossbenchers, and was won by 148 votes to 130, argued
that the bill was unjust and discriminatory, because it looked
after the interests of same sex couples only, giving them
the same tax and pension rights as married couples. Sons and
daughters who made sacrifices to look after parents, aunts,
uncles and grandparents deserved the same rights when the
elderly relative died, the bill's opponents said.
Stonewall, the mainstream gay lobby group, said: "We're
desperately disappointed. It's a number of years since we
have heard peers referring openly to 'unnatural sexual practices'
and 'hijacking' of the word gay. Sadly, it suggests that making
provisions for family carers was not the only motive for attempting
to amend the bill."
But Peter Tatchell of Outrage said he applauded the amendment
because it ended an injustice to a group of people who deserved
to share the benefits, which extend to next-of-kin rights
such as hospital access and funeral rights.
"The Lords should be applauded for extending partnership
rights to carers," he argued - but should have gone further
to included heterosexual couples.
Critics such as Lord Lester, the Liberal Democrat peer who
introduced the idea of registering civil partnerships in a
private member's bill two years ago, shared the government's
dismay. They said the bill was utterly changed and would take
years to sort out.
Accusing his opponents of "the most blatant hypocrisy
in pretending they have changed to a modern, enlightened party",
Lord Lester said: "What they have done is seek to destroy
the central purpose of the bill under the guise of giving
rights to others and it's complete humbug done for electoral
Labour peer Lord Alli said the amendments were "a figleaf"
to enable those opposed to the bill's purpose to fight it.
"This amendment is ill conceived and does nothing other
than undermine the purpose of the bill," he said.