Battle for straight equality continues – next phase: legal action in the courts
‘Equal Love’ campaign opposes exclusion of straight couples
A heterosexual Quaker couple, Ian Goggin and Kristin Skarsholt, were refused a civil partnership at Bristol Register Office this morning, Tuesday, 23 November. The registrar cited the legal ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships as the reason for the refusal.
See these photos of Kristin and Ian at Bristol register office:
These photos are free to use, without charge, but please credit Chris Houston.
Commenting on the refusal, Kristin Skarsholt (22) said:
“We are disappointed that we were not able to have our relationship legally recognised. Ian and I genuinely wish to secure legal recognition as civil partners. We are determined to fight through the courts to end the legal segregation that continues to keep straight and gay couples in separate institutions.
“Just as our gay friends are excluded from civil marriage, we are being excluded from having a civil partnership. This is discriminatory segregation on the basis of sexual orientation. It is wrong,” she said.
Ian Goggin (21) added:
“Although the register staff were extremely helpful, they were unable to offer us a civil partnership. They felt obliged to act in accordance with the law as it currently stands. We thank them for their politeness. We regret this rejection but our resolve to carry on the campaign for equality remains strong.
“We are hopeful that our forthcoming legal case, led by Professor Robert Wintemute and Peter Tatchell, will eventually end discrimination against heterosexual couples in civil partnership law. Next time we come here to apply for a civil partnership we are confident there will be a happier outcome,” he said.
See more quotes from Ian and Kristin at the end of this news release.
Skarsholt and Goggin are both Bristol-based students at the University of West England. Kristin is studying Arabic and Ian is studying music technology. She was born in Norway and he in Ireland. They’ve been in a relationship together for two years. Both are Quakers and met at a Quaker retreat.
Kristin and Ian’s application today is part of the new Equal Love campaign, which seeks the repeal of the twin prohibitions on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships.
Kristin and Ian are the fourth of eight couples who will file applications at register offices across the country, in an effort to overturn the “sexual segregation” in civil marriage and civil partnership law.
The Equal Love campaign is organised by the gay rights group OutRage! and coordinated by the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
Ian and Kristin are being advised by the Equal Love campaign’s legal expert, 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 grounds 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 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.
Equal Love’s campaign coordinator, Peter Tatchell, was in Bristol for the civil partnership application attempt and to support Skarsholt and Goggin. He added:
“We seek heterosexual equality. In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. There should be no discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“Denying heterosexual couples the right to have a civil partnership is discriminatory and offensive. We want to see it ended, so that straight couples like Tom and Katherine can have the option of a civil partnership.
“The bans on same-sex civil marriages and on opposite-sex 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.
“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.
“From 2 November onwards, eight couples will file applications at register offices in London, Northampton, Bristol and Havant. Four same-sex couples will apply for civil marriages and four heterosexual couples will apply for civil partnerships. One couple will make an application every week until 14 December. Once all the applications have been refused, the eight couples will consult our lawyer and agree a joint legal action.
“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.
“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.
Additional quotes from Ian and Kristin
Ian Goggin (21) said:
“We want a civil partnership for two reasons. It better reflects our relationship, and we can’t condone the baseless discrimination between civil marriages and civil partnerships.
“We seek the security and stability of a legal commitment, without the necessity to be associated with the language and culture of marriage. I don’t identify with this culture, and cannot think of Kristin as my ‘wife’. She is my partner, we work together, sharing responsibilities.
“We believe in access to civil partnerships for all. The similar Pacte Civil de Solidarité in France is extremely popular, with 95% of those taking it up in 2009 being heterosexual couples.
“A key reason we won’t get married is that we don’t want to take part in an institution that excludes our homosexual friends. We feel a fair society shouldn’t countenance this kind of hurtful sexual orientation discrimination and hope this campaign can go some way towards challenging such discrimination,” he said.
Kristin Skarsholt (22) added:
“It is important for me to be recognised as a ‘partner’ to Ian, and for him being acknowledged as a ‘partner’ to me; rather than him being ‘the husband’ and me being ‘his wife’. A civil partnership is a better reflection of our equal relations and our love for each other.
“Having both civil marriages and civil partnerships open to everyone is an important part of the struggle for equality. It recognises the universality of love, commitment, stability and security.
“We should all have the right to choose the institution that best reflects our relationship.
“Segregating gay and straight couples means that people of different sexualities are not being treated equally before the law,” she concluded.