Gay and straight couples to challenge UK marriage equality ban

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Four gay and four straight couples are to challenge the UK’s ban on gay couples marrying and straight couples having civil partnerships.

The Equal Love campaign, organised by gay rights activist Peter Tatchell and OutRage!, will see the couples registering to hold ceremonies they are not entitled to and taking legal action if they are turned away.

Mr Tatchell said: “Starting on November 2nd, eight couples will file applications at their local register offices. Four same-sex couples will apply for civil marriages and four heterosexual couples will apply for civil partnerships. Every week, through to December 14th, one couple will make an application.

“If the couples are turned away, we plan to take legal action. We will argue in the courts that in a democratic society gay and straight couples should be equal before the law. Both civil marriages and civil partnerships should be open to everyone without discrimination.”

The Equal Love campaign’s legal case is being prepared by Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at Kings College London.

“If the couples are refused, we will mount a legal challenge. These bans violate the UK’s Human Rights Act and are open to challenge in the courts,” said Professor Wintemute.

He added: “There is no longer any justification for excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage and different-sex couples from civil partnership. It’s like having separate drinking fountains or beaches for different racial groups, even though the water is the same! The only function of the twin bans is to mark lesbian and gay people as inferior to heterosexual people.”

Civil partnerships give gay couples all of the rights of marriage. There are some minor differences in the ceremonies, and gay couples cannot currently have a civil partnerships in a religious setting.

The lead gay couple in the challenge are Rev Sharon Ferguson and Franka Strietzel, while the lead straight couple are Katherine Doyle and Tom Freeman.

Ms Doyle and Mr Freeman made the national news earlier this year when they tried to have a civil partnership at Islington registry office.

Mr Tatchell added: “Our aim is to secure equality in civil marriage and civil partnership law. We want both systems open to all couples, gay and straight, so that everyone has a free and equal choice.

“Denying couples the right to civil marriage and civil partnership on the basis of their sexual orientation is wrong and has to end.”

A recent poll of 800 readers found that 98 per cent wanted the right to marry. Seventy-seven per cent agreed that marriage and civil partnerships should be open to everyone, while 23 per cent said that marriage should be the only form of recognition for all couples.

Labour leader Ed Miliband and deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg have both said they support marriage equality.

A Populus opinion poll in June 2009 found that 61 per cent of the public believe that ‘gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships’. Only 33 per cent disagreed.