A lesbian couple’s application for a civil marriage licence was today refused by Greenwich register office in south-east London.
Rev Sharon Ferguson (52) and her partner Franka Strietzel (49) were turned away on the grounds that UK law stipulates that marriage partners have to be male and female.
Sharon and Franka now plan to challenge this restriction in the courts, arguing that the ban on same-sex marriage violates Articles 14 (protection against discrimination), 12 (the right to marry) and 8 (the right to respect for family life) of the Human Rights Act.
[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157625296775932″]
Rev Ferguson is an ordained minister of religion and chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. Franka Strietzel is a corporate trainer.
Sharon and Franka’s civil marriage application today is part of the new ‘Equal Love’ campaign coordinated by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and sponsored by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights organisation OutRage!
The Equal Love campaign seeks to end the prohibition on same-sex marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships.
“We see the Equal Love campaign as a historic quest for justice; morally equivalent to the campaigns to overturn the bans on inter-racial marriage in apartheid South Africa and the Deep South of the USA,” said Equal Love coordinator Peter Tatchell.
Rev Ferguson added:
“Later this year, we plan to bring a joint legal action with seven other gay and straight couples, in a bid to overturn the twin bans on gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships,” she said.
“We’re optimistic. Our legal case is winnable. Equality in civil marriage and civil partnership law is now supported by most of the public and by the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green leaders, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Caroline Lucas.
“I’m feeling a little despondent. Even though we knew we’d be rejected, it hits hard that we’ve been denied the right to get married.
“We were treated very seriously and with great dignity by the register office staff. They told us they had to follow the law, which prohibits members of the same sex from marrying each other.
“We will now focus on supporting the other couples and pursuing the Equal Love legal case to overturn the ban,” said Rev Ferguson.
“Our legal challenge is being organised by one of the world’s leading human rights experts, Professor Robert Wintemute of Kings College London. We are hopeful that we will eventually win marriage equality,” added her partner, Franka Strietzel.
“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,” 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,” he said.
Rev Ferguson added:
“Franka and I have been together for over two years. We recently started talking about having our commitment to each other recognised.
“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.
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.
“If the couples are turned away, we plan to take legal action. Denying them equal treatment is contrary to the Human Rights Act,” said Peter Tatchell.
“Our legal team will argue in the courts that the bans on gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships are 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.
“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. We want 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 marriages 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.