Labour MEP Michael Cashman calls on the party to uphold its record on gay rights with the new Sexual Orientation Regulations.

I am celebrating an anniversary, and not my own.

I am in fact referring to the Civil Partnerships Act which came into force just over a year ago, permitting same-sex unions and providing entitlements equal to those of heterosexual couples.

Importantly, it celebrates stable, long-term relationships – a fundamental building block of an inclusive, civilised society.

I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding record of the Labour government who have led the way in guaranteeing equal rights for LGBT people.

This legislation is the pinnacle of a campaign that has given rise to an equal age of consent, an overturned ban on homosexuals in the armed forces, the abolition of Section 28, the definition of homophobia as a hate crime and the removal of discriminating articles in criminal law.

Like many others, I have finally been able to pledge my personal and legal commitment to my partner of 24 years.

Between December 2005 and September 2006, a phenomenal 15, 672 civil partnerships were registered in the UK.

These figures show the necessity and desire for such laws, proving LGBT people, like everyone else, share the same values as their heterosexual contemporaries.

The struggle for legal equality has come a long way, but prejudice from religious groups remains a perpetual challenge.

The religious lobby has called for a so-called right to discriminate when providing goods and services.

The Labour party must guarantee no opt-outs on equal treatment are granted to any group in society.

To not do so would mean the party will have reneged on its commitment to equality for LGBT people. It will also leave a legal loophole for lawful discrimination”.

Former EastEnder turned Labour MEP Michael Cashman is President of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights.

This article first appeared in the January issue of The Pink News which is out now