Lawyers seek equal rights for gay couples

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The Independent Online

COHABITING gay couples should be given the same rights as heterosexuals, lawyers said yesterday. The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, is also calling for greater legal recognition for all unmarried couples. The society's paper includes proposals for cohabitation contracts, which allow cohabitees to share pensions and apply for maintenance if they separate.

COHABITING gay couples should be given the same rights as heterosexuals, lawyers said yesterday. The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, is also calling for greater legal recognition for all unmarried couples. The society's paper includes proposals for cohabitation contracts, which allow cohabitees to share pensions and apply for maintenance if they separate.

The reforms, to be debated by the society tomorrow, do not place cohabitees on the same legal footing as married couples. But the paper says social changes make reform essential. An estimated one in four unmarried adults aged 16 to 49 cohabits and one in three babies is born out of wedlock, it says.

Many people do not marry, wrongly believing that they will secure automatic legal rights after living together for a certain period. The paper proposes: "The Law Society believes that any reforms to the law should seek to enhance the protection available to cohabiting couples without equating cohabitation with marriage ... any increased protection should apply equally to heterosexual and homosexual cohabitants."

Homosexual cohabitees should have the right to apply for support if the other partner dies intestate, said the society. The proposals could help gay partners of victims of the bombing five months ago of the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, London, who are blocked from claiming compensation.