BR turns down free travel for same-sex partners

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The Independent Online

Transport Correspondent

British Rail is resisting pressure from its staff to allow lesbian and gay partners the same free and discount travel privileges granted to those in heterosexual relationships.

A group of 20 rail staff has been lobbying BR to come into line with other major transport organisations which recently adopted a non-discriminatory policy towards homosexual partners of staff. This is the first concerted attempt by gay and lesbian BR staff to overturn BR's long-standing policy of ignoring homosexual partners. They have been encouraged by British Airways, which recently extended travel concessions to partners of either sex who have been registered with the company for a year.

Anya Palmer of Stonewall, the pressure group for gays and lesbians, said that BR had recently revamped its equal opportunities policy but had ignored the issue of gay and lesbian partners. Heterosexual partners of BR staff - including unmarried couples who have lived together for two years - and their children are entitled to some free travel and discounts on any tickets they buy.

Ms Palmer said: "We feel that it is time BR began to recognise same-sex partners. This is a blatant bit of discrimination." Ms Palmer said there was a lot of sympathy within BR for widening the privileges "but we have been told that the Government is adamant about [not] granting any more free travel at a time when the railways are being privatised."

As the 25 train-operating companies are privatised, starting next year, responsibility for such travel concessions will pass to the new private operators. According to Stonewall, at least four of the 25 management teams planning bids would be prepared to grant concessions.

However, the British Railways Board is opposing any concessions. A spokesman for the board said that negotiations were due to take place, but he added: "This issue is not high on the list of priorities, given that we are in the midst of wage negotiations. BR is also very cash-constrained and we are very unlikely to grant any extra concessions at this point in time."