Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 2001-2002

Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Partnerships: A study of National, European and International Law, edited by Robert Wintemute and Mads Andenaes

reviewed by Terry Sanderson

The announcement by Baroness Sally Morgan that New Labour is now seriously looking at the topic of same-sex partnership rights makes this book extremely topical. It will give authoritative background to all the arguments that will have to be played out before we get some kind of legal recognition for our relationships.

The book, which is an academic rather than a popular read, runs to nearly 800 pages of dense information and statistics. It must surely cover every attempt that has ever been made to reform the law – successful and unsuccessful – all over the world. And the most eye-opening aspect of this overview is the sheer number of variations on the theme. Each country that has considered the idea of legalised same-sex partnerships seems to have come up with its own version. Some are more generous than others, of course, but the one thing they all have in common is the sheer weight of objections they generated from religious sources.

Anyway, the main thrust of the argument that arises in countries that have seriously considered the topic is whether they should permit “gay marriage” on a par with the heterosexual variety or whether they should come up with some kind of modified – and therefore, in effect, inferior – version for gay and lesbian couples. “Registered partnerships”, “civil unions” and other arrangements that stop short of marriage, seem to be most popular with those who’ve enshrined these rights into law.

The religious objections seem to hinge on the nature of “marriage” or “holy matrimony”. Is it for mixed-sex couples only, because that is what “God” wanted when he supposedly decreed this institution? Certainly the European Convention on Human Rights reserves marriage for couples of the opposite sex, but that was created in the fifties when the world was a very different, and more tight-arsed, place.

Or is marriage really about providing a safe environment for the procreation and raising of children? If that is the case, then logically infertile straight couples should not be permitted to marry. And anyway, the new developments in reproductive technology mean that gay men and women can produce their own children more easily these days, so many gay relationships do provide an environment for children – they are in no way “pretend” families, as the insulting Section 28 insists.

This book brings together an international team of around 50 scholars to examine the theoretical issues and the wide variety of developments in the United States, Canada, Brazil, thirteen European countries, Israel, South Africa, India, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand.

For anyone who is interested in how this seismic shift in social values is panning out, both locally and internationally, it is a fascinating read. For those who are involved in the push to make legalised gay relationships a reality, it is essential.

Of course, almost all those countries in the civilised (i.e. non-Islamic) world that have enacted some kind of partnership law have had to bend to religious objections and water down their provision. The issue of adoption seems to be the sticking point for many, although not all. In this country we have an increasingly well-organised right-wing religious constituency, and when the topic gets on to the political agenda – which seems increasingly likely – the religious agitation will reach fever pitch. To get some idea of the arguments that are going to be used against us, visit the Christian Institute’s website and you’ll see just how far the religious right is prepared to go to stop gay progress.

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Created : Sunday, 2002-02-17 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :