GAY and lesbian couples in Merseyside could soon enjoy similar rights to husbands and wives if the new Civil Partnership Bill is passed.
If the legislation is given the go-ahead by the House of Lords, same-sex couples would be allowed to register their commitment in a civil ceremony and receive pension and property entitlements.
They would also have the chance to gain parental responsibility for each other's children and an exemption from testifying against each other in court.
Julie Waring, family law specialist at Morecroft Urquhart, in Dale Street, said: "At present, when one same-sex partner dies, the other can be penalised by things like inheritance tax or rights of succession.
"This Bill will remove key areas of discrimination and provide much-needed security to same-sex couples and their families."
The measures are also good news for any children involved.
Ms Waring added: "The ability to gain responsibility for a partner's child can prevent unnecessary upheaval in the case of a parental death."
Under the proposals, gay couples would not have to live together for a certain length of time to be eligible for the rights and, if the partnership breaks up, there would be a formal, court-based process for dissolving it. The proposals also cover co-habiting heterosexual couples who are currently denied the same rights afforded to married couples.
Ms Waring said: "Society is changing so much this would be a welcome change in the law reflecting modern relationships. Co-habiting couples should be allowed to cite their partner as nearest next of kin if they so wish in the event of accident, death or mental problems. The legislation would also allow someone to take out a life insurance policy on their partner's life.
"This will bring England and Wales in line with nine other European countries including
France, Belgium, and Germany. "We are pleased to see that domestic law is dynamic enough to develop in line with trends in society."
Alan Henry, from Time Hairdressing, said as a gay man he would welcome the change in law.
He said: "I totally back the bill. Marriage is a forced institution of control and every-one should be equal under the law.
"If this Bill gets through, I believe it will be a catalyst for many changes. In my own experience, there are questions when buying a house I am legally forced to answer because I'm not married, so this legislature could have far-reaching consequences."