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Increasing Rights for Unmarried and Same Sex Couples

Friday, 18 October 2013

Changes to social norms means that couples are increasingly deviating from the traditional institution of marriage even where they intend their relationship to continue indefinitely. At the same time, same sex relationships have also become widely accepted.

Although society has largely absorbed these changes, formal legal structures have adjusted more slowly meaning that discrimination can occur in a number of settings often leaving couples without legal resolve.

Changing Rights for Unmarried and Same Sex Couples

In the UK there are limited rights for same sex relationships and unmarried couples, especially in the employment setting.

Recent progressive developments in this area in the US may offer the UK some useful insights that could add to the rights of unmarried and same sex couples.

US mega store 'Wal-Mart' has recently changed its store policies in order to reduce discrimination not only against same sex couples but also against unmarried couples, whether gay or straight.

Under the store's new policies, health insurance is offered to same sex couples and unmarried couples. The only criteria is that the couple are living in a continuing exclusive and committed relationship for at least one year and that they plan to continue sharing a home indefinitely.

Equality in the Workplace Does Not Mean Equal Benefits

Under UK equality laws, sexual orientation is protected and discrimination on this basis is illegal in the workplace. However, employers may continue to discriminate in favour of married couples when compared with their unmarried counterparts regarding benefits such as family health insurance.

Equality advocates suggest that allowing this to continue will result in injustice and hardship for those individuals who live in committed relationships but who do not want to enter into the institution of marriage.

Furthermore unmarried couples whether same sex or opposite sex, also face discrimination upon the cessation of their relationship. For example, unmarried partners are not entitled to maintenance and have no property rights over what might have been their home for a number of years. Thus, many unmarried partners may be left with nothing upon the termination of their relationship.

These discriminatory practices impact disproportionately on women, who are also more likely to be responsible for childcare.

Current Protection for Cohabiting Unmarried Partners

As the law stands, the only protection available to cohabiting unmarried partners is through drafting an agreement that sets out what should happen if the relationship ends.

There is however a growing sentiment in favour of rights for unmarried couples in the UK. A recent poll found that a majority of MPs would support a change in the law to give unmarried couples greater protection. The law needs to adapt and offer protection to these increasingly common types of relationships.

Employees that have faced any form of discrimination in the workplace should seek immediate legal advice. Employers interested in extending employment benefits to unmarried couples should also seek advice before proceeding. Please contact Aneil Balgobin via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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