Hungary’s parliament yesterday approved the Registered Partnership Act. From January 1st 2009 lesbian and gay couples will have almost identical rights as married heterosexual couples in common law.

Notable exceptions are the right to adopt, access to fertility treatment and the right to take their partner’s surname.

The Registered Partnership Act was passed with votes of the members of the Socialist-led social-liberal government.

Both gay and straight couples will be able to register their partnership, and will have protections regarding next of kin status, taxation, health care, inheritance, social security, pensions and shared possession of a home.

Government statistics show that there were an estimated 349,000 unmarried couples in Hungary in 2005, 12.2 per cent of all families, compared to 62,000 in 1970, 2.1 per cent of all families.

Hungary’s opposition conservative parties refused to back the new law, which they regard as a “hidden attempt” to legalise

gay marriage.

The Hungarian gay and lesbian associations have welcomed new law as a milestone while acknowledging it does not grant full equality.