Equal Love – European Court case seeks equality

Legal bid for gay marriage and heterosexual civil partnership

Eight couples file joint application on Tuesday 21 December on the 5th anniversary of the first civil partnerships in England

Professor Robert Wintemute outlines the legal case for equality

“Eight British couples will file a joint application to the European Court of Human Rights on  Tuesday 21 December, in a bid to overturn the twin bans on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships,” announced human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights group OutRage!.
 
The application and legal arguments will be outlined by Peter Tatchell and Professor Robert Wintemute at a news conference on Tuesday, followed by a seminar on the issue chaired by Lord Lester QC.
 
10am -1pm, Tuesday, 21 December 2010
 
News conference and seminar – Chaired by Lord Lester QC
 
The Great Hall, King’s College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS
See the location here:
http://www.kcl.ac.uk/campuslife/campuses/strand/strandcampuslocation.aspx
 
“The 21 December is the fifth anniversary of the first civil partnership ceremonies in England. This was a breakthrough moment in legal equality and social acceptance for same-sex couples,” said Mr Tatchell.  
 
“Now it is time to go one step further by overturning the ban on gay civil marriages (ie. marriages in register offices).
 
“Some same-sex couples do not want marriage. They are happy with civil partnerships. We respect their feelings. But other lesbian and gay couples would like to get married. It is the universally recognised system of love and commitment.
 
“We sympathise with heterosexual couples who don’t like the patriarchal history of marriage and the idea of being called husband and wife. They would rather have a civil partnership instead. The law should give them that option,” he said.
 
Mr Tatchell is coordinator of the Equal Love campaign – www.equalove.org.uk – which seeks to end sexual orientation discrimination in civil marriage and civil partnership law.
 
“Over the last two months, four same-sex couples were refused marriage licenses at register offices in Greenwich, Northampton and Petersfield. During the same period, four heterosexual couples were turned away when they applied for civil partnerships in Islington, Camden, Bristol and Aldershot,” added Mr Tatchell.
 
“All eight couples received letters of refusal from their register offices. We are using these rejection letters to challenge the exclusion of gay couples from civil marriage and the denial of civil partnerships to straight couples. Since there is no difference in the rights and responsibilities involved in gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships, there is no justification for having two mutually exclusive and discriminatory systems.
 
“Banning black couples from getting married would provoke uproar. The prohibition on gay marriages should arouse similar outrage.
 
“The ban on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships is a form of legal 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.
 
“Everyone should have a choice, either a civil marriage or a civil partnership, whichever they prefer. The current laws deny couples choice and discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. This what we are challenging in the European Court of Human Rights ,” said Mr Tatchell.
 
The news conference on Tuesday will be chaired by Peter Tatchell, and feature all eight couples and their legal advisor, 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.
 
“Banning same-sex marriage and different-sex civil partnerships violates Articles 8, 12 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” said Professor Wintemute.
 
“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. The government will eventually accept that it cannot defend the current discriminatory system,” he said.
 
NEWS CONFERENCE & DEBATE
 
10:00 to 11:00 am – Equal Love news conference
The case for equality in civil marriage and civil partnership law
 
Peter Tatchell, human rights defender, co-founder of OutRage! and co-ordinator of the Equal Love campaign: www.equallove.org.uk
 
Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law, King’s College London
 
Sharon Ferguson, Chief Executive Officer, Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, and her partner Franka Strietzel, on behalf of the four same-sex couples
 
Katherine Doyle and Thomas Freeman, on behalf of the four different-sex couples
 
 
10:30 to 10:45 am – Questions from the media
 
10:45 to 11:00 am – Coffee break
 
 
11:00 am to 1:00 pm – Equal Love seminar
How should the Government respond to the Equal Love campaign?
 
Chair:  Lord Anthony Lester of Herne Hill QC, author of the private member’s bill that inspired the Civil Partnership Act 2004
 
Introduction:  Lord Lester
 
Prof. Anne Barlow, Professor of Family Law and Policy, University of Exeter
 
The Rev. Carla Grosch-Miller, Minister, St. Columba’s United Reformed Church, Oxford
 
Canon Giles Goddard, Priest in charge, St. John’s Church (Church of England), Waterloo, London
 
Background information
 
 Segregation of couples in UK law, based on sexual orientation:
 
Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, s. 11:  “A marriage … shall be void [if] … the parties are not respectively male and female …”
 
Civil Partnership Act 2004, s. 3(1):  “Two people are not eligible to register as civil partners … if they are not of the same sex …”
 
Countries, provinces and states with marriage for same-sex and different-sex couples:
 
17 – Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, USA (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, District of Columbia), Mexico (Federal District) 
 
Countries, provinces and states with civil partnership for same-sex and different-sex couples:
 
11 – Australia (Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria), Canada (Québec), Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, USA (Illinois, Nevada, District of Columbia)
 
Countries, provinces and states with both marriages and civil partnerships open to both gay and heterosexual couples ie. “Equal Love”:
 
3 – Canada (Québec), Netherlands, South Africa

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