Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Forms pose discrimination risk, U.K.civil partners warned


Lucy Ward, social affairs correspondent
Tuesday December 4, 2007

Gay and lesbian people who enter into civil partnerships are at risk of "forced outing" through everyday activities such as taking out a bank loan, according to a report to be published tomorrow.
A study for the Citizens Advice charity, produced two years after civil partnerships became legal in Britain, reveals that form-filling is forcing gay people to disclose their sexual orientation to banks, insurance companies and employers, when they might have preferred not to.
Declaring a gay relationship, for example to a prospective employer, could increase the potential for discrimination or harassment, according to the report, Civil Partnerships - Another Year On.
The research also concludes that the terminology surrounding civil partnerships is making it harder for gay couples to discuss or refer to their status and "bringing into sharp focus social discomfort with homosexuality". People are being forced to choose between "clumsy" terms such as "civilly partnered" and the inaccurate and potentially controversial word "marriage", says the study.
The report from the CAB's advice body for the gay, lesbian and transgendered community, reflects the "unintended consequences" as civil partnership legislation beds in, said CAB spokesman Tom Togher. The new law has proved popular, with more than 18,000 partnerships registered in the first 12 months following the act, and several thousand more this year.
But "legal change is running ahead of social change", Togher said, with many gay and lesbian people still wary of declaring their sexual orientation.
Participants in the survey, which included 20 in-depth interviews with people in civil partnerships and long-term, non-legally recognised gay and lesbian relationships, were concerned that declaring civil partnership status could expose them to discrimination or harassment.
The report recommends forms should have a single category of "married/civil partner", leaving the sexual orientation of respondents unspecified. It also calls for a debate on civil partnership terminology.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the campaign group Stonewall, said form-filling could raise problems, but said many organisations - including Revenue & Customs - bracketed civil partnerships and marriage together. The term marriage was emerging as the most popular term used by gay and lesbian couples to describe their relationships, he added.

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