British prime minister Tony Blair's Labour government said Friday that gay couples should be allowed to register their partnerships and enjoy some of the legal rights that married couples have. Barbara Roche, minister for social exclusion and equalities, said there is an "extremely strong case" for registering same-sex relationships and that ministers will consult on the specifics next summer. "I do think society has moved on, and I think that we recognize that there are very many people in gay relationships who are in very loving relationships--they may have been very long, enduring relationships--but their partnership has no recognition in law," Roche told BBC radio. Roche said that the partnerships would not be equivalent to marriages, however. "We are not talking about marriage here," she said. "What we are talking about is the signing of a register."
Because their relationships have no legal status in the United Kingdom, gay and lesbian couples are denied many of the rights given to married people in the areas of inheritance, pensions, tenancy, and immigration, among others. London allows gay couples to formally register their unions, but the registration doesn't confer any legal rights.
The opposition Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are backing the proposal to give same-sex couples the same property and inheritance rights as married couples. Oliver Letwin, Tory spokesman on domestic issues, said his party would support the measure when it is introduced in Parliament. "Whilst we attach a huge importance to the institution of marriage, we do recognize that gay couples suffer from some serious particular grievances," he told the BBC. The Conservatives have long opposed the extension of gay rights but have recently become more supportive as part of an effort to break away from their traditionalist image and be more inclusive.
Evan Harris, health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said the registration idea is overdue. "Couples of any sex must be made equal before the law," he said.