Gay doctors to get equal treatment

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The Independent Online
LEADERS of the British Medical Association are expected to teach their cricketing brethren in the MCC a lesson in equal rights today by allowing gay and unmarried heterosexual partners of doctors cut-rate membership of the association.

The BMA's ruling council is to vote on a proposal to allow live-in partners of either sex to qualify for the cut-rate subscription currently only available to spouses. However, the value of the discount is to be reduced so wives and husbands will pay more to allow unmarried partners to qualify.

Once seen as the heart of the medical establishment, populated by white- haired gents in the Dr Finlay mould, the BMA has modernised in recent years as a reforming leadership has given it a younger, more progressive outlook.

Now it has bowed to pressure from its junior doctor members whose domestic arrangements would have shocked their forebears.

Only doctors may join the association but the low-price subscription has been valuable to medical couples who effectively get two memberships for the price of one and a half.

In addition to a weekly copy of the British Medical Journal, members get legal and industrial relations advice in disputes with employers, pensions advice, cheap motor insurance and a range of other services.

The BMA has 114,000 members most of whom pay an annual subscription of around pounds 250. About 5,000 spouses pay the lower subscription, which is reduced by 62 per cent. A further 2,000 are expected to qualify for the new cut- rate, which is to be set at 50 per cent to maintain the same level of income for the association.

Dr Jim Appleyard, BMA treasurer, said the demands for change had come from unmarried junior doctors in long-term relationships who had argued that they were being discriminated against.: "We wanted to be fair to people in those circumstances and not think of gender or sexual orientation.

"Once they are living in a house with joint responsibility for that as a couple, we won't be judgmental on who that couple should be. I have constructed as fair a system as I can which is cost-neutral."

Both partners must be doctors and the discount would lapse if they separated and one moved out.

Dr Appleyard said he "sincerely hoped" the increase in subscriptions for spouses, whose discount will be reduced from 62 to 50 per cent, would not lead to protests.

"They get incredibly good value for money," he said.