Tartan laddie meets French rose – more marriages French-style on the way?

By Bill Heaney

Ooh la la! Scots could soon be marrying French-style making the Auld Alliance stronger than ever before.

Civil partnership legislation moved on last week when it was extended to equalise the law for opposite sex couples.

Pauline McNeil MSP told the Scottish Parliament: “There is good reason to think that civil partnerships for heterosexual couples will be popular.

“In France, the pacte civil de solidarité is a registered partnership arrangement.

“Over the years, it has become increasingly popular, and for every five marriages, there are now four PACS.

“Based on the international experience, the Scottish Government estimates that there could be 109 opposite-sex civil partnerships registered each year, but the French example indicates that the numbers could rise significantly once the option has been in place for a while.

“We are closing an important equality loophole in the law and giving all the citizens of Scotland more choice. There is every reason to support the provision [for opposite sex couples] and bring it in to our law.”

Pauline McNeil, a French-style wedding in Edinburgh and flags entwined.

Ms McNeil MSP, who was chair of the Justice Committee in 2004, was chair of the Holyrood Justice Committee, which passed the civil partnership legislation.

She said: “It was a major step towards marriage equality for same-sex couples. Now, 16 years on, we have equal marriage and we require to equalise the law for opposite-sex couples.”

The committee also reformed family law at that time when “we accidentally swept away 300 years of Scots law provision for marriage by cohabitation and repute—sometimes known as common-law marriage.

“We managed to fix that at stage 3 of the Family Law (Scotland) Bill, when we allowed someone to make a statutory declaration if they thought that they were married and were unaware that actually they were not, for some technical reason, perhaps because they had not followed the full customs in another country.

“That was a relief for me, as I had married in Las Vegas, and for Bruce McFee, who you may remember from the Scottish National Party and who also got married in an exotic place.”

She added: “It is pertinent that we are discussing the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill today.  Adam Tomkins’s amendment 36, which the committee and the Government supported, highlighted that the ability to marry or enter a civil partnership is an important right, which confers other rights.

“Rights conferred by civil partnerships were meant to be identical to those conferred by marriage, but there seem to be some differences.

“One of those is that death in service confers apparently greater rights on people in civil partnerships than on those who are married.

“According to the Scottish Parliament information centre, the Pensions Advisory Service noted that, since Walker v Innospec, which was a court case on death benefits and pension rights for same-sex couples, it is now the case that surviving partners of same-sex civil partnerships are entitled to the same death in service benefits as widows of opposite-sex marriages.

“That usually includes a backdating of pensionable service to 1978, whereas widowers are currently entitled to backdate that only as far as 1988.

“That is a small technical issue. If civil partnership and marriage should have exactly the same legal basis, then those should be identical.”

The Equalities and Human Rights Committee said in its report that “some people do not wish to marry for symbolic, cultural or emotional reasons and consider these important enough to merit the extension of civil partnership.”

In fact, civil partnerships may provide a valuable alternative for women and many others who have had negative experiences of marriage, including abusive relationships.

“There is a right for same-sex couples to choose between civil partnerships and marriage and the same choice should be available to other couples.  It is important to increase people’s choices about how they structure their lives.

“The bill brings Scotland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, as civil partnerships for mixed-sex couples have recently been introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Clearly, there is a difference between the rights that a couple have from cohabitation and the rights that they would have in a marriage, and the fact that that difference has existed for so long has been the subject of much discussion.

“The committee’s report highlights the rights, or perhaps the non-rights, of cohabiting couples.

“A legally recognised relationship brings with it many financial benefits.

“More than that, people find security in being married or in a civil partnership. For those who feel that marriage is not for them, a civil partnership offers an important alternative.”

The new legislation would ensure that people can be in a legally recognised relationship and have the benefits that flow from that so that they can live their lives, said Ms McNeil.

She added: “For example, it will mean that one civil partner can inherit wealth on the death of another civil partner without a tax charge. In addition, where one civil partner earns £12,500 or less, a proportion of their tax-free personal allowance can be transferred to the other partner if that person is a higher earner, thereby reducing the couple’s overall income tax bill.”

  • Dating back to 1295, the Auld Alliance was built upon Scotland and France’s shared interests in controlling England’s aggressive expansion plans. Drawn up by John Balliol of Scotland and Philip IV of France, it was first and foremost a military and diplomatic alliance, but for most ordinary Scots it brought more obvious benefits through jobs as mercenaries in France’s armies and of course, a steady supply of fine French wines.



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