The Unmarried Partners Concession made it possible for same sex couples to make an application for a partner of a British citizen to remain in the UK if they had lived together for four years. It paved the way to greater equality for same sex couples. 

On the 10 October 1997, the Unmarried Partners Concession was announced, which recognised same sex relationships for the first time in British law.  

From that moment on, LGB people wanting to remain together in the United Kingdom on the basis of their relationship were allowed to do so, as long as they had lived together at least for four years. 

This concession overruled the previous Immigration Rule, by which the partner of a British LGB person had no right to live in the United Kingdom with the person they loved. 

It was through years of campaigning for equal rights by Rainbow Migration, then known as the Stonewall Immigration Group, that Jack Straw, the then Shadow Home Secretary, committed to recognise same sex couples for immigration purposes should Labour win the next election.  

In 1997, five months after the Labour Party won the election, the Concession was passed. 

Thanks to continued campaigning, in 1999 the cohabitation period was reduced from four to two years. After the Unmarried Partners Concession became an Immigration Rule in October 2000, the Civil Partnership Act was passed in Parliament in November 2004. This meant sex same couples had finally achieved full legal immigration parity. 

Javier’s story 

Javier and his partner were one of the couples who were part of the original Stonewall Immigration Group. The Home Office refused their first application in the early nineties, ignoring their argument that they were in the equivalent of a common law relationship. This should have entitled them to be treated as straight couples in similar situations. The concession ensured that, in straight relationships, the foreign partner could be granted an initial one year period of leave to remain. This did not apply to same sex couples at the time. 

As Javier recalls, “when we started this process, I assumed that the British legal system had provisions for gay couples, even though those were the years of Margaret Thatcher, I thought of the United Kingdom as a very liberal society”.   

He and Bill continued fighting for years, but their case wasn’t resolved until the enactment of the Unmarried Partners Concession in 2000. 

“Even though we won [and the Concession was passed], I don’t  remember it feeling as a triumph. It was more like this is what it should have been since the beginning”, explains Javier. He emphasises, “societies in general tend to take for granted a lot of things that they enjoy in the present. Though we enjoy it today, it is the consequences of ongoing struggles through time. Ours was just one struggle, a continuation of many. If anything I do feel proud of being part of that past but to the younger generations I would say these are rights that a lot of people struggled to achieve”.