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A sad day for equal marriage rights

August 1st, 2006

Dr Petra

Yesterday the High Court turned down a UK lesbian couple’s attempt to have their Canadian marriage legally recognised in the UK. Whilst in the UK lesbian and gay couples can have a civil partnership this is not offered the same legal status as marriage. Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson were legally married in Vancouver in 2003 and sought legal recognition of the High Court under section 55 of the 1986 Family Law Act.

In the UK overseas marriages are recognised if they marriage was seen as legal and recognised as such in the country where the marriage took place with no restrictions on such a marriage within that country’s legal system. Celia and Sue argued their marriage fulfilled these criteria, and whilst they couldn’t enter a same-sex marriage in the UK, they wanted their Canadian marriage status to be recognised here.

In a statement prior to yesterday’s ruling the couple said: “Our case is fundamentally about equality. We simply want to be treated in the same way as any heterosexual couple who marries abroad – to have our valid Canadian marriage recognised as a marriage in our home country.”

A statement from the pressure group Liberty who have supported Celia and Sue stated: “The Civil Partnership Act 2004 (which came into force on 5 December 2005) allows same sex couples new rights as “civil partners.” Despite having entered into a marriage in Canada in 2003, the UK automatically deemed Celia and Sue’s marriage to be a civil partnership as of December 2005. Celia and Sue reject the conversion of their marriage into a civil partnership, believing it to be both symbolically and practically a lesser substitute. They are asking the court to recognise their overseas marriage in the same way that it would recognise that of a heterosexual couple. They will argue that a failure to do so would constitute a breach of their human rights to privacy and family life and their right to marry, and that it is discriminatory on the basis of their sexuality”.

Joanne Sawyer, Legal Officer at Liberty said: “Sue and Celia are lawfully married in Canada. Downgrading their marriage to a civil partnership, without their consent, maintains an artificial distinction between same sex and opposite sex couples which is unsustainable in contemporary Britain.”

Unfortunately the High Court didn’t see things the same way and did not recognise Celia and Sue’s marital status.

This further confirms the disparity between the law when it comes to heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Whilst straight couples are free to legally marry, lesbian and gay couples are still restricted to civil partnership. Whilst civil partnership is arguably better than not being able to make a commitment to a partner it still makes lesbian and gay couples into second-class citizens when it comes to relationships rights. It’s been rightly described in press reports of the ruling as sexual apartheid.

You can still support Celia and Sue’s case and find out more about their courageous stand by visiting their website Equal Marriage Rights.

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