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article imageCouples to challenge UK twin marriage bans in European Court

By Andrew John     Jan 31, 2011 in Lifestyle
Eight couples from the UK will launch a historic attempt in the European Court of Human Rights later this week to overturn the twin bans on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships.
The move was announced today in a news release from the human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of the gay human-rights group OutRage!.
“The European Court challenge will be formally announced at a meeting in Committee Room 17 at the House of Commons at 10.30 a.m., booked in the name of Caroline Lucas MP,” says Tatchell. “Ms Lucas is the keynote speaker.”
Before the Wednesday meeting, he says, there will be a photocall at 9.30 a.m., where the couples filing the European Court challenge will post their application in the red letterbox at the corner of Abingdon Street and Great College Street, London SW1, diagonally opposite the House of Lords (Britain’s upper legislative chamber).
Tatchell is coordinator of the Equal Love campaign, which seeks to end sexual-orientation discrimination in both civil marriage and civil partnership law.
“Since November, four same-sex couples were refused marriage licences at register offices in Greenwich, Northampton and Petersfield. Four heterosexual couples were also turned away when they applied for civil partnerships in Islington, Camden, Bristol and Aldershot,” says Tatchell.
“All eight couples received letters of refusal from their register offices, which we are now using as the evidential basis to challenge in the European Court of Human Rights the UK’s exclusion of gay couples from civil marriage and the prohibition of straight civil partnerships. Since there is no substantive difference in the rights and responsibilities involved in gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships, there is no justification for having two mutually exclusive and discriminatory systems.
“Outlawing black or Jewish people from getting married would provoke uproar. The prohibition on gay marriages should provoke similar outrage. Arbitrarily excluding heterosexual couples from civil partnerships is equally reprehensible.
“The bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships are a form of sexual apartheid – one law for gay couples and another law for heterosexual partners. Two wrongs don’t make a right. In a democratic society, we should all be equal before the law,” Tatchell added.
Tatchell will chair Wednesday’s launch, which feature Caroline Lucas MP as the keynote speaker, plus some of the eight couples and their legal adviser, Professor Robert Wintemute of the School of Law at Kings College London. He will outline the legal basis of the Equal Love challenge to the current proscriptions.
“Our Equal Love campaign wants both marriages and civil partnerships opened up to all couples, different-sex and same-sex. Let everyone have a free and equal choice,” says Wintemute.
“Banning same-sex marriage and different-sex civil partnerships violates Articles 8, 12, and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“It’s discriminatory and obnoxious, 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 socially and legally inferior to heterosexual people.
“I am confident that we have a good chance of persuading the European Court of Human Rights that the UK’s system of segregating couples into two ‘separate but equal’ legal institutions violates the European Convention. I predict that same-sex couples will be granted access to marriage in the UK and that this will be because the UK Government will eventually accept that it cannot defend the current discriminatory system,” he said.
The case was originally meant to be heard in the European court in December, but was postponed.
“The formal filing of the application to the European Court of Human Rights was postponed after Camden register office inadvertently failed, at the last moment, to provide a valid letter of rejection to one of the heterosexual couples who were refused a civil partnership,” said Peter Tatchell at the time.
“Such a letter is required evidence, in order to demonstrate to the European Court that the couple suffered discrimination based on their sexual orientation.”
More about Gay couples, Straight couples, Civil partnerships, Peter tatchell, Equal love
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