Gay and lesbian couples in the United Kingdom will soon be able to join in civil partnerships, giving them the same tax and inheritance rights as married couples. Announced in the queen's speech on Wednesday, the Civil Partnership Bill will give legal recognition to gay couples for the first time, the BBC reports. The announcement marks the end of a long campaign for equality for same-sex partners. But the bill has already faced criticism for failing to offer similar rights to unmarried heterosexual couples.
Plans to give gay and lesbian couples in the U.K. the same legal rights as married couples were outlined earlier this year, according to the BBC. The new rights will include hospital visitation, child custody, and pension and property entitlements if couples register their commitment in a civil ceremony. Schemes that recognize committed homosexual relationships have already been set up in nine countries in the European Union. And in June, two provinces in Canada ruled that gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry.
Under the U.K. plans, gay couples will not be entitled to a "marriage" ceremony but will be able to sign an official document at a registry office in front of a registrar and two witnesses. Gay couples would not have to live together for a certain length of time to be eligible for the rights, and if the partnership breaks up, there would be a "formal, court-based process" for dissolving it.
Queen Elizabeth II read Prime Minister Tony Blair's domestic program, of which the partnership bill was a part, during a tradition-laden ceremony in the House of Lords. She said the government is committed to improving Britons' quality of life, increasing equality and social justice, and promoting economic stability and growth.