Heterosexual couple seek civil partnership

Discrimination against straight couples challenged

‘Equal Love’ campaign wants to end sexual orientation discrimination

Wednesday 8 December 2010
Register Office
Camden Town Hall
Judd Street, WC1H 9JE
(off Euston Road, diagonally opposite St Pancras station)

A heterosexual couple, Stephanie Munro and Andrew O’Neill, will challenge the legal ban on straight civil partnerships by filing an application at Camden Register Office this Wednesday 8 December 2010 at 10am.

They are demanding “heterosexual equality.”

The denial of civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples is, they say, “unjust, discriminatory and illegal under the Human Rights Act.”

Stephanie Munro and Andrew O’Neill expect to be turned down by the registrar but they plan to get the rejection in writing, with view to taking legal advice and appealing against the refusal in the courts, together with seven other rejected couples. All eight couples will file a joint legal appeal.

Stephanie Munro is a 27 year old administration manager. Andrew O’Neill, aged 31, is a stand up comedian. Both live in Camden, north London. They’ve been in a relationship together for five years.

The couple’s bid is part of the new Equal Love campaign, which is seeking to overturn the twin prohibitions on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships.

Stephanie Munro and Andrew O’Neill are the seventh of eight couples who are filing applications at register offices across the country, in an effort to overturn the “sexual segregation” in civil marriage and civil partnership law. They are the third heterosexual couple to seek a civil partnership. Two other straight couples have already filed civil partnership applications, in Islington and Bristol.

The Equal Love campaign is organised by the gay rights group OutRage! and coordinated by the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, with the support of the Peter Tatchell Human Rights Fund.

Mr Tatchell will join Andrew and Stephanie this Wednesday 8 December 2010 at 10am, when they apply for a civil partnership in Camden.

Mr Tatchell commented:

“It is outrageous that the law denies straight couples the option of having a civil partnership. Excluding them is discrimination and it’s wrong.

“We support their bid for heterosexual equality. In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. There should be no legal discrimination. The twin bans on gay civil marriages and on heterosexual civil partnerships are a form of sexual apartheid. There is one law for straight couples and another law for gay partners. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

“Denying heterosexual couples the right to have a civil partnership is discriminatory and insulting. We want to see it ended, so that straight couples like Andrew and Stephanie can have the option of a civil partnership. I salute their challenge to this unjust legislation,” he said.

Explaining her desire for a civil partnership, Stephanie Munro said:

“The institution of marriage has never appealed to me and it certainly doesn’t reflect my relationship with Andrew. We’re partners and we want to make an official, lifetime commitment to each other. But we don’t want to participate in a marriage system that has patriarchal foundations and rejects same-sex couples.

“The segregation of same-sex and different-sex relationships into predefined categories is discriminatory and entirely unacceptable to us. We believe there should be flexibility within the law to allow all couples, straight and gay, the freedom to choose which type of union suits them best. If Andrew and I cannot get a civil partnership then we will remain unmarried,” she said.

Her partner, Andrew O’Neill, added:

“As long as marriage is denied to same-sex couples, it remains a hangover from a patriarchal age. The handing over of the bride from one male to another is enshrined in the marriage ritual and, to a degree, in law. That’s one reason why marriage doesn’t seem right for us. A civil partnership has none of this historical baggage.

“While I reject the social pressure to get married, I see clear benefits in the legal status of civil partnership. I also strongly believe in equality of opportunity for same-sex couples,” he said.

Stephanie and Andrew are being advised by the Equal Love campaign’s legal advisor, Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at Kings College London.

“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,” said Professor Wintemute.

“The twin bans violate Article 14 (protection against discrimination), Article 12 (the right to marry) and Article 8 (the right to privacy and 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.