It aims to challenge the twin bans on gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships, with eight couples filing applications at register offices and then, when they are refused, bringing a joint legal action in the courts to secure a change in the law.
Today’s news conference was chaired by the Equal Love campaign coordinator, Peter Tatchell, and included the campaign’s legal advisor, Professor Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at Kings College London.
Also in attendance were four of the sixteen future plaintiffs: the lead same-sex couple, Rev Sharon Ferguson and her partner Franka, and the lead heterosexual couple, Katherine Doyle and Tom Freeman.
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The Equal Love campaign is being organised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights organisation OutRage!
“Starting on Tuesday 2 November, 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 until 14 December, one couple will make an application,” said Peter Tatchell.
“If the couples are turned away, as we expect they will be, we plan to take legal action. Denying them equal treatment is contrary to the Human Rights Act.
“Our legal team will argue in the courts that the bans on gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships are an unlawful and unjustified discrimination.
“In a democracy, gay and straight couples should be equal before the law. Both civil marriages and civil partnerships should be open to everyone without discrimination,” he said.
Rev Sharon Ferguson, who is an ordained minister of religion and chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said:
“Franka and I have been together for over two years and we recently started talking about having our commitment to each other recognised.
“Although I fully appreciate the benefits of civil partnerships, I don’t feel they are appropriate for us. As chief executive of LGCM, and also a pastor in the Metropolitan Community Church, I spend my life campaigning for justice and equality. The simple fact is that no matter how good civil partnerships are with regard to the legal protections and rights they provide, they are still a separate system that was put together to stop gay and lesbian people from being able to marry.
“Like most people in this world, we were brought up to believe that one day we’d fall in love and get married. This is what we want to do and our sexual orientation should not be an impediment,” she said.
Katherine Doyle added:
“We have been together for nearly five years and would like to formalise our relationship. Because we feel alienated from the patriarchal traditions of marriage, we would prefer to have a civil partnership. As a mixed-sex couple, we are banned by law from doing so. By filing an application for civil partnership, we are seeking to challenge this discriminatory law.
“Our decision is also motivated by the fact that we object to the way same-sex couples are prohibited from getting married. If we got married we would be colluding with the segregation that exists in matrimonial law between gay civil partnerships and straight civil
marriages. We don’t want to take advantage of civil marriage when it is an option that is denied to our lesbian and gay friends,” she said.
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.
“By excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage, and different-sex couples from civil partnership, the UK Government is discriminating on the ground of sexual orientation, contrary to the Human Rights Act. Specifically, the twin bans violate Article 14 (protection against discrimination), Article 12 (the right to marry) and Article 8 (the right to respect for family life).
“The rights attached to civil marriage and civil partnership are identical, especially with regard to adoption of children, donor insemination, and surrogacy. 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,” he said.
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.
“In a democratic society, we should all be equal before the law. The ban on same-sex civil marriage and on opposite-sex civil partnerships is a form of sexual apartheid – one law for gay couples and another law for heterosexual partners. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
“Just as gay couples should be able to marry, civil partnerships should be available to straight couples.
“Same-sex marriage is the growing trend all over the world. It exists in Canada, Argentina and South Africa, as well as seven of our European neighbours: Portugal, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. Why can’t we have marriage equality in Britain too?
“Political support for ending the ban on gay marriage is growing. London Mayor, Boris Johnson, and former Conservative Party Vice-Chair, Margot James MP, have both come out in favour of allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry in a registry office, on the same terms as heterosexual partners.
“This view is also endorsed by the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, and by the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.
“Both the Liberal Democrat and the Green party conferences have voted overwhelmingly in favour of ending the bans on gay civil marriage and heterosexual civil partnerships,” noted Mr Tatchell.
Public attitudes have shifted strongly in favour of allowing gay couples to marry. A Populus opinion poll in June 2009 found that 61% of the public believe that: “Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships.” Only 33% disagreed.
Videos of the news conference can be viewed here: