The national government of the United Kingdom officially recognizes same-sex relationships. However, these UK relationships are a "separate-but-equal" arrangement called "civil partnerships." UK CP's ostensibly have all the legal incidents of true marriage, rendering them legally a distinction without a difference.*
The difference arises from certain straight people's compulsion to relegate gay people into a second-class status that marks them as quantifiably different and thus unworthy of sharing a truly equivalent legal status. Thus, this "separate-but-equal" distinction — while perhaps legally negligible — is in reality, profound.
The profundity of that distinction was noted by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1954's landmark Brown v. Board of Education, and has likewise not escaped notice by a swath of intelligent people throughout UK. Witness this exchange from a British news program:
The speakers are James Max and Carole Malone. Given the current state of American politics, you'd be forgiven for assuming Max and Malone are a couple of bleeding-heart liberal ivory-tower intellectuals, if not a couple of gay activists.
That is not the case: Max is a pro-banker business journalist and Malone is a right-wing commentator.
Can you imagine an analogous conversation happening in the United States — a nation with actual Constitutional guarantees of legal equality and longstanding doctrinal (if not Constitutionally mandated) separation of church and state?
(* This effect is dramatically different from a "civil union" or "domestic partnership" or another of these other "not-marriage" creatures invented by a few states in the United States. A couple CP'd under English law remains CP'd as they travel the length and breadth of their country, while a couple "unioned" under Illinois law revert to legal strangers the moment they cross the state border. A couple CP'd under English law have testimonial privilege, equal rights under immigration law, tax law, probate law, and full access to the other's pensions and survivor's benefits, while individuals bound in a state "not-marriage" get none of this due to a federal law called The Defense of Marriage Act, a law President Obama bizarrely believes to be both unconstitutional and enforceable.)
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