Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Honourable David Furnish or Sir David?

The male partners of peers and knights who take part in gay marriages may be given courtesy titles to put them on a par with wives of titled men.

It could lead to Sir Elton John’s partner David Furnish being known as ‘Sir David’ or possibly ‘the Honourable David Furnish’.

It would, of course, depend on whether the couple decide to convert their civil partnership into a full civil marriage, as allowed under new Government plans.

The prospect of courtesy titles for same-sex partners arises from the Coalition’s controversial proposal to give gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

In a consultation document published last week, Home Secretary Theresa May and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone declared: ‘If commitment and marriage is a good thing, we should not restrict civil marriage only to opposite-sex couples.’

Buried in the small print were a number of thorny issues, including courtesy titles. The document stated: ‘Married couples and civil partners are entitled to similar rights and responsibilities but there are some differences around eligibility for some pension rights and laws around adultery and non-consummation and courtesy titles.’

At present, if ‘Fred Bloggs’ is given a peerage and becomes ‘Lord Bloggs’, his wife ‘Freda’ becomes ‘Lady Bloggs’. Likewise, the wife of a knight of the realm, ‘Sir Fred Bloggs’, becomes ‘Lady Bloggs’.

However, this privilege is not granted to the partners of homosexual peers and knights in civil partnerships.

To ensure full equality, the Government will either have to grant courtesy titles to the partners of married gay peers and knights – or remove them from the wives of their heterosexual counterparts. That could cause considerable anger: many male peers and knights say the main reason they accepted the honour was to enable their wives to call themselves a ‘Lady’.

To add to the complications, male spouses of female peers and dames are already discriminated against. They are not granted courtesy titles, and remain plain ‘Mr’.

For example, when Princess Anne married Tim Laurence, he remained Mr Laurence. It was not until last year that he was able to call himself ‘Sir Tim’, when the Queen made him a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

Etiquette experts have spent years debating the use of a courtesy title by the husband of a dame or female peer, and failed to come up with an answer.

Finding a way of extending courtesy titles to homosexuals is likely to prove even harder. Even if a courtesy title for gay partners were to be decided, there remains the question of which surname to use.
Wives with courtesy titles have to use their husbands’ surnames, but gay couples often keep their own surnames.

Then there is the issue of lesbian married couples, where one is a baroness or dame.

In the case of lesbian ‘Dame Freda Bloggs’, her lesbian married partner ‘Fiona’ could be titled ‘Dame Fiona’ or ‘the Honourable Fiona’.

‘The Honourable’ is a traditional courtesy title used by sons and daughters of hereditary peers and baronets.

However, the possible reform received a lukewarm response from Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights campaign group Stonewall, who said: ‘It is hardly a priority for the vast majority of gay voters.’
The Government is also considering devising a new definition of ‘gay adultery’ to be used in gay divorces.

At present, the legal definition of adultery is sex between a man and woman. Ministers reportedly want to proceed with a new definition despite warnings by some gay rights campaigners that it would be simpler for married gay people to sue for divorce on the grounds of ‘irretrievable breakdown’.

The Mail on Sunday understands that notwithstanding David Cameron’s publicly stated enthusiasm for gay marriage, it will not be in the Queen’s Speech in May when the Government unveils its legislative plans for next year.

That means it will not become law for at least two years, possibly not until after the next General Election in 2015.

- Daily Mail

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