Sunday, 21 December 2008

UK and US: same-sex civil partnership – two different stories

Three years ago today, on 21st December, England introduced civil partnership for same-sex couples, which was effectively a gay marriage in all but name. Since then same-sex couples in England and throughout the UK enjoy same rights as married heterosexual couples.

The Economist marks this anniversary with the report on England’s success story of equality. It’s a different matter in US where civil partnership for same-sex couples introduced in few states became “an inadequate substitute for marriage”, as the latest editorial of The New York Times points out. Have a look at these two reports below.

Happy anniversary

Dec 18th 2008

From The Economist print edition

Three years on, civil partnerships are going strong—especially among men

VALENTINE’S Day is a couple of months off, but this weekend many couples will be out celebrating. On December 21st it will be three years since civil partnerships—gay marriages in all but name—were introduced in England and Wales (Scots and Northern Irish registrars began one and two days earlier respectively). The pent-up eagerness of many couples to tie the knot created an early rush: nearly 4,000 people got hitched that December. Candlelit restaurants will be doing brisk business in the next few days.

By halfway through this year nearly 60,000 Britons had entered a same-sex union, giving them legal rights virtually identical to those of married couples. In contrast to their American counterparts, most British gays seem relaxed about not having the right to call their partnership a marriage. “It meant we could get the law through sooner. Changing the wording is not really a priority,” says a spokesman for Stonewall, a gay-rights lobby group. And speed is not everything: Denmark was the first country to recognise gay partnerships, in 1989, but still does not let them adopt children.

Gay couples getting hitched are older than straight ones: men are 43 on average and women 41, compared with 36 and 34 among straight couples (including those remarrying). And it seems that gay men, though often characterised as promiscuous, are settling down in greater numbers than lesbians. Men have out-partnered women in every quarter since civil partnerships were introduced; in London last year nearly 75% of those contracted were between men. Some unions have already broken down; but so far male partnerships have proved less likely than female ones to end in dissolution.

One explanation offered for this bias is that lesbian identity has been shaped by an anti-marriage strand of feminism. But that seems to fall down elsewhere: in Vermont, for example, the first American state to offer comprehensive civil unions, about two-thirds of partnerships are between women. It may simply be that Britain has more gay men than lesbians. The census does not pry that far, but the Office for National Statistics announced on December 4th that it would begin quizzing people about their sexuality next year in six of its regular surveys. Estimates broken down by age and region will be available in 2010.

It will be interesting to see if they tally with the government’s current guess that between 5% and 7% of the population is lesbian, gay or bisexual. Data on civil partnerships suggest that the last category might prove the most surprising: of those who have formed partnerships so far, a tenth of men and nearly a quarter of women were married before to someone of the opposite sex.

Editorial (The New York Times)

Separate and Not Equal

Published: December 20, 2008

Civil unions are an inadequate substitute for marriage. Creating a separate, new legal structure to confer some benefits on same-sex couples neither honors American ideals of fairness, nor does it grant true equality. The results are clearly visible in New Jersey, which continues to deny same-sex couples some of the tangible civil benefits that come with marriage.

Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey has long said that he would sign a measure granting the right to marry to couples of the same sex. We are heartened that he has declared that that should happen sooner rather than later.

We hope Mr. Corzine intends to prod legislators into passing such a law early in the 2009 session. That would make New Jersey the first state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples through legislative action. Three other states — Connecticut, Massachusetts and California — have done so through the courts. Unfortunately, California voters approved a ballot measure in November rescinding that right, at least for now.

Mr. Corzine made his statement after a state commission released its final report on New Jersey’s two-year-old civil union law. The commission noted the hurt and stigma inflicted by shutting out gay people from the institution of marriage. It also found that civil unions do not assure gay couples of the same protections, including the right to collect benefits under a partner’s health insurance program and to make medical decisions on behalf of a partner who is unable to do so. The panel concluded unanimously that the state should enact a law to remove the inequities.

We regret that the leaders of the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature do not view this issue with the same urgency. Senate President Richard Codey, for instance, said recently that progress in civil rights areas “is typically achieved in incremental steps.” We suspect that political expedience is clouding Mr. Codey’s sense of fairness. Next year in New Jersey, the governorship and all seats in the Assembly are up for grabs in an election. Some Republicans already are talking about making their opposition to same-sex marriage a campaign issue.

Governor Corzine typically takes the right side on important issues, but he has been known to retreat in the face of opposition. We hope that’s not the case here. It’s past time for him and for the Democrats in Trenton to find the political courage to extend the right to marry to gay couples.


Ani said...

The New York Times has been pushing pretty hard for gay marriage; it's quite possible that the debate will come up in New York State itself in 2009. This was the feature article in today's wedding section--time for a little heartwarming news, right?

artmika said...

I've read lots of confusing reports re NY marriage bill fate with internal things going within Democrats. Yeah, hopefully 2009 will bring positive developments. ALso, fate of Prop 8 in California will be decided early next year, the latest reports indicating that Court will hear the case in March.

P.S. sweet love story you pointed out, Anu, just in time for Christmas :)