Lesbian couple fail in gay marriage bid

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The High Court has today rejected a lesbian couple’s bid to have their Canadian marriage recognised in the UK.

Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, a British lesbian couple married lawfully in Canada, challenged the UK government’s laws claiming that their human rights were impeded by only being viewed as civil partners.

The case was heard by Sir Mark Potter, President of the Family Division of the High Court, last month. Today he ruled that their union could only be recognised as a civil partnership.

He said the UK government has worked to remove “legal, social and economic disadvantages suffered by homosexuals” through civil partnerships.

Mr Potter added, “Abiding single-sex relationships are in no way inferior, nor does English law suggest that they are by according them recognition under the name of civil partnership.”

Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, both university professors, were legally married in a civil ceremony in Vancouver, British Columbia on 26 August 2003. Their marriage is fully recognised as a legal marriage in Canada.

The UK’s Civil Partnership Act, introduced last December, says that same-sex couples who legally marry in countries where it is possible for them to do so “are to be treated as having formed a civil partnership”.

A heterosexual couple who married abroad would automatically have their marriage recognised as a marriage in the UK. The couple said in a statement, “This is about equality. We simply want to be treated the same way as any heterosexual couple who marries abroad.”

The human rights organisation Liberty provided pro bono legal representation at the High Court hearing of the case on 6-8 June 2006. Their lawyers argued that any failure to recognise the validity of Celia and Sue’s marriage constitutes a breach of the couple’s rights under the Human Rights Act.

The couple were represented by Matrix Chambers, their lawyer, Karon Monaghan, told the court, “Exclusionary marriage laws have been used historically to reflect and bolster prejudice, oppression and discrimination against marginalized groups,” Monaghan told the court. Such laws “are now being dispensed into the jurisprudential dustbin.”

“Having regard to the Human Rights Act, such laws cannot survive.”

She described the laws barring the recognition of their marriage as “repugnant”.

Their legal case is part of an international movement to secure the global recognition of Canadian same-sex marriages. In Ireland, another lesbian couple married in Canada, Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, are mounting a similar legal challenge in the Irish courts There are also challenges pending in Israel, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Their plea was opposed by the Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer, who said in documents submitted to the court that any overseas marriage between a couple that cannot marry in England and Wales, would not be recognised by law, and he highlighted the fact that the UK recognises them as civil partners under the 2004 Civil Partnerships Act.

Barrister Helen Mountfield, for the Lord Chancellor, said the law provided a high degree of “legal recognition” to same sex partners who receive “no less favourable treatment” than married couples.