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PCS supports full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and therefore supports the government’s moves towards same-sex civil marriage, or alternatively known as equal marriage.
At our annual delegate conference 2013, delegates overwhelming supported two motions in support of equal marriage campaigns across the UK, one of which specifically covered Northern Ireland.
PCS’s view is based on the proposition that LGBT people continue to face prejudice and discrimination, and that the denial of the right to get married that is available to opposite sex couples is discriminatory.
It is not, therefore, a position either for or against people getting married; it is that access to this institution must not be denied to people because of their sexuality or gender identity and the existing ban is unequal, unjustifiable and symbolises a different or lower status for LGBT people.
PCS believes the two current UK equal marriage bills - one in Scotland, and one covering England and Wales - will herald new levels of acceptance in society.
We are campaigning to ensure LGBT people should be respected as equal citizens and their consensual relationships equally respected, not just in legal terms but also in status, perception, freedom of religious choice and expression, and the expression of human rights.
LGBT employees pay into their pension schemes in the same way as heterosexual employees and so their spouses and civil partners should be entitled to the same benefits as their straight counterparts - it's a simple matter of fairness and equality.
PCS is lobbying for full equalisation in survivor benefits in pension schemes for same sex civil partners or spouses, and some widowers. At the moment some pension providers pay far lower survivor benefits to same sex civil partners and spouses than to heterosexual partner and spouses.
In May 2014, we responded to the government's consultation on suvivor benefits and we are lobbying with the TUC and other unions for full equalisation. (A copy of our response is available from PCS Equality - email@example.com or call on 020 7801 2683).
PCS believes only with these changes can we achieve true equality. By removing these inequalities which currently allows employers and pension providers to treat married couples and civil partners differently on pension rights, as well as men and women differently, the changes would ensure equal treatment for all civil partners and spouses, men and women, irregardless of their sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.
The government says equalisation of pension provisions would entail unforeseen costs to pension schemes, but there is no justification or room for discrimination, and any costs are very minimal in any case.
Legislation to legalise same sex marriage in England and Wales finally received royal assent on 17 July, leading the way to the first of such marriages next summer.
Among the amendments agreed in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, were protections for transgender couples which will allow people to change gender and remain married.
However the inequality relating to survivor benefits in occupational pension schemes was not overturned in the Act, but is being picked up in the Pensions Bill. PCS is continuing to lobby on this.
PCS welcomes and recognises many of the Act’s provisions as representing a further step towards true equality, and an opportunity to push further back the boundaries of ignorance and prejudice.
However, the legislation still enshrines six aspects of discrimination which the Peter Tatchell Foundation has usefully set out as being:
- Pension inheritance rights are fewer on death of a same-sex marriage spouse. The surviving partner is not entitled to receive the full value of the deceased partner’s pension. Employers are required by law to pay same-sex survivor’s pensions based only on contributions made since 2005; although in practice many are likely to pay out from 1988 onwards. This means that pension contributions made many years before 2005/1988 are discounted and not received by the surviving same-sex marriage partner.
- There is no restoration of the marriages of trans people that were previously annulled as a precondition for them securing a gender recognition certificate. Moreover, the spouse of a transgender person must consent to the marriage continuing after the issue of a gender recognition certificate.
- Rightly or wrongly, the existing grounds for the annulment of a marriage - non-consummation and adultery - do not apply in the case of same-sex marriages.
- The Church of England and the Church in Wales are explicitly banned from performing religious same-sex marriages, even if they decide they want to.
- The special requirements and costs of registering premises for the conduct of religious same-sex marriages are much harsher than for opposite-sex marriages in religious premises. In the case of shared premises, all other sharing faith organisations have to give their permission for the conduct of marriages involving LGBT people. In effect, they have a veto.
- The legislation does not repeal the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships. Straight couples continue to be banned from having a civil partnership, even though the government’s own public consultation on equal marriage found that 61% of respondents supported the right of heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership if they desire one. Only 24% disagreed.
Clearly there is still some way to go with the campaign for full equality.
Our PCS LGBT and Proud members and allies have campaigned tirelessly for this great moment to happen in the face of strongly organised and well-financed opposition.
Campaigning with and supporting Scotland’s LGBT campaigning group, the Equality Network, PCS members have ensured one of the most progressive same-sex marriage laws in the world.
February 4 will remain a happily memorable date in the calendar when MSPs voted by 105 to 18 in favour of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.
The first marriages are expected this autumn.
Congratulations to everyone who supported the campaign!
There's always more to do - tackling sexual orientation and gender identity bullying, harassment, prejudice and discrimination in the workplace, supporting our international LGBT solidarity campaigns around the Commonwealth Games (in Glasgow in July-August this year) and feeding in your views on the Referendum.
Join our vibrant PCS Scotland LGBT network.
There are currently no plans for similar legislation in Northern Ireland. However in October the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) published its LGB policy proposals including its support for same sex marriage. The report is available on the ECNI website.
Earlier in 2013, the Northern Ireland Assembly narrowly voted not to follow England, Scotland and Wales in introducing legislation for equal marriage in civil ceremonies.
The Northern Irish LGBT community have always had to fight harder and longer than our brothers and sisters in other parts of the UK to ensure equal rights.
Equal marriage Northern Ireland campaign was launched in 212 to push for marriage equality between gay and straight couples in Northern Ireland. The campaign to change hearts and minds will continue.
At our annual delegate conference in 2013, delegates overwhelmingly voted in support of allying with the equal marriage Northern Ireland campaign.
Find out more about PCS Proud in Northern Ireland on our webpages. Also you can contact the PCS Proud Northern Ireland reps, David Halliday on 028 9080 8107 and Gareth Lee on 028 9056 5004.
Please visit the PCS Proud website for further information.