Tue, Dec 21, 2010 - Page 6 News List

European rights court called upon to end marriage ‘apartheid’

The Guardian, LONDON

Campaigners will launch a legal challenge at the European court of human rights today in an attempt to change “unjust and discriminatory” legislation that prevents straight couples from entering civil partnerships and gay couples from getting married.

Over the past two months, eight couples — four heterosexual and four homosexual — have filed applications for civil partnerships and marriage respectively. All have been rejected.

Now activists from the Equal Love campaign are challenging the UK law, arguing that the prevention of “equal treatment” is contrary to the Human Rights Act.

“The bans on same-sex civil marriages and on opposite-sex civil partnerships are a form of sexual apartheid,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who is co-ordinating the Equal Love effort along with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group Outrage.

Couples have been applying for marriage licenses and civil partnerships since Nov. 2. A couple has applied for either a civil partnership or marriage every week since then, culminating with Lucy Hilken and Tim Garrett, both 31, being unsuccessful in their application for a civil partnership at the Aldershot register office on Tuesday last week.

“Tim and I don’t want to get married,” Hilken said. “Our commitment to each other is strong and we plan on spending the rest of our lives together. We have no desire to enter into a marriage contract. However, we do want legal recognition of our relationship and would prefer a civil partnership because it is free from the negative, orthodox traditions of marriage.”

“If civil partnerships didn’t exist we would opt to not marry. But since they do exist, we’d like to have one. By prohibiting male-female couples from having a civil partnership, we are being discriminated against for no good reason. We want this ban overturned,” she said.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 states that the parties to a marriage must be male and female. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 stipulates that the parties to a civil partnership must be of the same sex.

“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 Robert Wintemute, professor of human rights law at Kings College London and legal adviser to the couples. “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]. It’s like having separate drinking fountains or beaches for different racial groups, even though the water is the same.”

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