Britain Goes Jim Crow

This week, the British government made a historic announcement: Starting in December, same-sex couples in the UK will be able to enter legally recognized civil unions. These unions are not equal to or the same as legal marriage: Though they are legally binding relationships, they only provide some of rights enjoyed by married couples. The new act grants same-sex couples rights to their spouses’ pensions, gives them next-of-kin/family status under law, and exempts them from paying inheritance tax on a partner’s home. There is also divorce protection: In a civil union, alimony and child support must be provided as needed.

Despite the heterosexist inequity built in, this is good news for progressive incrementalists and government spokespersons. “This legislation is going to make a real difference to these couples and it demonstrates the government’s commitment to equality and social justice,” Deputy Minister for Women and Equality Jacqui Smith told the Associated Press. “It opens the way to respect, recognition and justice for those who have been denied it for too long.”

Starting Dec. 5, couples can register for a civil union through their local council. After a 15-day waiting period, the relationship becomes official after a partnership document is signed before witnesses.

In a related story, the British armed services announced that, in accordance with the law, registered same-sex couples will be permitted to use quarters reserved for military families.

All of this is perhaps a step forward, but let’s hope British GLBTs remember: This is not equality.

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