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6,500 couples opt for civil partnerships but ceremony creates new problems· Concerns over 'selling out' and etiquette
· 22% decided not to invite parents to ceremony
Tuesday August 8, 2006
It was an act hailed by ministers and activists alike, sweeping aside decades of inequality. The latest figures reveal that 6,516 same sex couples have opted to cement their relationships by entering into civil partnerships since the legislation came into force last December. The famous ones, such as Elton John and his partner David Furnish, have captured headlines.
But new academic research into the issue of civil partnerships shows that the revised arrangement, while bringing much needed clarity, has quietly thrown up new problems. Some are political, such as the need to face friends who believe opting for a civil partnership represents "selling out" to heterosexual norms or succumbing to "heteronormativity".
Others involve matters of etiquette. Should a couple who have reached an accommodation with their parents about their sexuality risk that accord by inviting close family to the ceremony? And what about wider family? Is it sensible to have one's friends - who approve of a same sex relationship - at the same reception as that tipsy, slightly reactionary uncle - who probably does not.
Professor Carol Smart, who led the research involving 54 couples, said: "We found that the reasons couples enter into a civil partnership can vary according to their age, whether they have children, their need to access certain legal rights, and their views on the institution of marriage itself. We found an overall level of acceptance from families. However, at the other extreme some gay men and lesbians experienced telling their families of their plans to be like 'coming out' again. For some parents it meant that they could no longer assume that their son or daughter was going through a 'phase' that they would grow out of." She said friends could also pose problems. "While some could be entirely supportive, others saw it as a capitulation to heterosexual norms and to straight society."
Couples, who were interviewed before and after the legislation came into effect, have chosen a variety of ceremonies including Shamanic, Pagan, Christian and humanist. Most involved parents or other close relatives in their ceremonies but 22% decided against inviting parents. "Sometimes this was because parents had never accepted their son or daughter's sexuality and so were unlikely to welcome an invitation. But in other cases individuals did not want to risk homophobic relatives being unpleasant to their other guests at the ceremony," the report says.
Those who did invite parents said this appeared to have "enhanced their sense of closeness" and put their partners on a new footing with their families.
Those couples who proceeded despite the "heteronormativy" issue did so "either because they felt they had important reasons to marry which would outweigh the criticism, or because they did not agree that by getting married their values would suddenly change".
Most welcomed the financial safeguards achieved by entering into a civil partnership but 80% said they had made wills to safeguard their partner prior to the legislation taking effect.
The issue of how same sex couples choose to live together remains a contentious one despite the introduction of civil partnerships.
Last week, Mr Justice Potter, the most senior family court judge, dismissed an application from two university professors to have the marriage they entered into in Canada recognised in this country. The judge ruled that the civil partnership status they enjoyed here gave them all the practical benefits. But his controversial ruling said marriage is a state reserved for heterosexuals.
Most civil partnerships have occurred in the south.
By March 31, 238 had taken place in Westminster, 236 in Brighton and Hove and 194 in Kensington and Chelsea. There were 36 in Newcastle but just five in Neath, South Wales.
Love and equality
Liz Kay, a professor of dental health services, and her partner Stella Tinsley, 40, an equestrian businesswoman, decided after 14 years together to have a civil partnership. They were keen to secure the practical advantages but also determined to keep the essential tenets of their relationship. "We actively didn't want to be seen as a lesbian couple wanting to be like a heterosexual couple," said Professor Kay. "We didn't want it to be a case of one of the women pretending to be a man really. We are not. We are a lesbian couple."
The proceedings, in April, were deliberately understated. "We didn't want a white wedding with lots of fuss. We wanted rights that heterosexual married couples enjoy, such as the right to be each other's next of kin. After 14 years together I think that's the least we could expect."
Kuehl Removes Key Portion of Bill on Gays in Textbooks
Sen. Sheila Kuehl drops rule that schoolbooks include history and achievements in favor of an anti-bias provision. Governor vows a veto.
By Jordan Rau and Nancy Vogel, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
August 8, 2006
SACRAMENTO — Facing a certain veto, state lawmakers have abandoned their effort to require that textbooks in California schools detail the history and achievements of gays and lesbians in America.
Supporters removed that provision of the gay rights bill, which passed the California Senate in May, so that the measure only bars teaching anything that "reflects adversely" on people because of their sexual orientation. Schools would also be prohibited from sponsoring any activities that sanction such a bias.
The revised law is certain to win full approval by the Democratic-led Legislature. If the bill is signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it would add that protection to California's existing anti-discrimination law, which prohibits instructional materials and teachers from pedagogy that is negative about race, ethnicity, disability, nationality or religion.
State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), the author of SB 1437, said she made the change even though it removed 90% of the import of the measure, which would have been the first in the country to mandate the teaching of homosexuals' contributions. The bill had drawn strong support from gay activists but ridicule from social conservatives and others who objected to the notion of debating historical figures' sexual orientations in textbooks.
"I did this because I'm hoping this is small enough and important enough at the same time that the governor can sign it even in an election year," Kuehl said Monday.
But Schwarzenegger's office, which had taken the rare step of announcing his intention to veto the bill, provided no encouraging signal that he would change his mind.
"The governor will not sign a bill that micromanages curriculum that is better left to the state Board of Education," Schwarzenegger press secretary Margita Thompson said.
The Campaign for Children and Families, a conservative group, condemned the altered measure, saying that it would still prohibit teachers from telling students that there is such thing as "the natural family" and that bisexual parents are abnormal.
"Gov. Schwarzenegger said he would veto SB 1437," said Randy Thomasson, the Sacramento-based group's president. "Fathers and mothers expect Arnold not to let them down."
In a preliminary vote Monday in the Assembly, 20 Republicans supported the changes, which passed 65 to 2, with 13 legislators abstaining. A spokesman for the GOP caucus said the members would not support the bill when it comes up for a final vote, but it still has more than enough Democratic votes to pass.
Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California, a gay rights group, said he was disappointed with the changes, but the revised bill would make it possible to catalog and investigate complaints about teachers' derogatory statements.
"We'll move forward one piece at a time," he said.
He said his group had decided to endorse Schwarzenegger's Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, because Schwarzenegger, though "the best Republican governor" on gay rights issues, "puts politics above principle" and has vetoed a number of priorities, including legalized gay marriage.
The group had endorsed state Controller Steve Westly over Angelides in the Democratic primary.
Bill expanding gay rights in public school curriculum watered down
Measure is limited to ban negativity on sexual orientation
- Greg Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
(08-08) 04:00 PDT Sacramento -- In a bid for a gubernatorial signature, legislation that would have required public school instructional materials to include the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people was scaled back Monday to simply prohibit teaching or textbooks that negatively portray persons based on their sexual orientation.
In May, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the "Legislature should not micromanage curriculum" and vowed to veto the bill if it reached his desk. Critics said his decision was spawned by re-election jitters over angering conservative Republican voters.
"All that's left in the bill now is adding sexual orientation to a long-standing law that prohibits the adoption of official teaching materials or the conducting of school activities that reflect adversely on people on the basis of race, religion, gender and so on," said the bill's author Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica.
"We took out the section of the bill the governor said would 'micromanage' curriculum because I would like to get his signature on something so we can help students this year," said Kuehl, the first openly lesbian member of the Legislature.
The textbook measure, SB1437, generated intense debate among lawmakers as it moved through the Senate. It is awaiting action in the Assembly where the amendments to weaken the bill were approved Monday.
Criticism of the measure from groups opposing expansion of gay rights was intense. Opponents argued including the contributions of gays and lesbian in textbooks would promote homosexuality.
Supporters countered that textbooks should include the contributions of gays and lesbians just as they are required to contain those of other minority groups.
The bill now would prohibit teachers and textbooks to "reflect adversely" on persons based on sexual orientation. For more than 30 years, textbooks and teachers have been prohibited from negative portrayals of persons based on various characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, nationality or religion.
"While this is not everything we believe needs to be done to address the problem it is still a very important affirmative step to protect kids," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the bill's chief backer.
Kuehl's elimination of the mandate on including the contributions of gays and lesbians in textbooks did not win over opponents of her bill.
"(This bill) still requires all teachers, all textbooks and all instructional materials to positively portray cross-dressing, sex change operations, bisexuality and homosexuality," said Randy Thomason, president of Campaign for Children and Families.
It's also not clear if the changes will win over the governor.
But Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson cautioned that "the governor will not sign a bill that micromanages curriculum. That is better left with the State Board of Education."
E-mail Greg Lucas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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