Gay marriage rights battle takes to European courts

Kristin Skarsholt (left) and Ian Goggin Ian Goggin and Kristin Skarsholt were refused a civil partnership in Bristol

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A campaign group is launching a legal challenge in the European Court of Human Rights to extend the rights of gay couples to full marriage.

Equal Love is also arguing that heterosexual couples should be entitled to form civil partnerships.

More than 40,000 same sex couples have had their relationships recognised in law since civil partnerships were introduced in 2005.

The Equal Love campaign will see eight couples file a court case.

The couples, four heterosexual and four same-sex, have all recently tried to marry or form a legally recognised civil partnership and been refused for various reasons.

Civil partnerships mostly give same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples, but some campaigners believe the arrangement lacks the status enjoyed by marriage.

The four same-sex couples will file a case with the European Court of Human Rights as part of the Equal Love campaign, arguing that they are being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

Civil partnerships: key facts

Wedding cake for a civil partnership
  • Legally recognised union between a same-sex couple
  • Equal legal treatment in matters including inheritance and next-of-kin arrangements
  • Marriage ceremonies must be public and can be conducted by clergy
  • Partnership can occur in private
  • Failed partnerships require a legal dissolution, like divorce
  • Political, religious and social considerations influenced legal title of the union
  • Most campaigners accepted title because they had secured the underlying rights

At the same time the four heterosexual couples, who have attempted to form civil partnerships and been turned down, will do the same.

Each group wants the rights afforded to the other and insists the government has an obligation to consistency.

Marriage culture

Ian Goggin, who is in one of the heterosexual couples involved in the case, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that there were two main reasons why he and his partner Kristin Skarsholt preferred civil partnership to a traditional marriage.

He said: "One is that we can't buy into marriage whilst it excludes our homosexual friends. We can't condone that by entering into a marriage.

"And secondly, we feel a civil partnership better reflects our relationship by allowing us to be legally recognised as partners - and also meaning that we can not have to buy into the culture and language of marriage."

Mr Goggin added that even if the law was changed so that homosexual couples were allowed to marry in a traditional way, the pair would still want a civil partnership.

He said: "We still don't identify with the culture and language of marriage. This isn't just a gay rights campaign, it is a human rights campaign."

The case could take three years, but campaigners are hoping government policy may change before that.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told BBC Radio 5 Live that the situation was currently unfair.

"When the law says a gay person is banned from marriage, that sends a signal. It sends a signal that we are regarded as socially and legally inferior."

He added: "No-one grows up dreaming of being a civil partner. People grow up dreaming of falling in love and one day getting married. That dream is just as real for gay people as it is straight people."

The campaign has been backed by Terry George, who was one of the first people to enter into a civil partnership five years ago.

He said gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexuals: "I can understand where the people who are campaigning are coming from because I think it should be equal for all.

"It seems that public attitudes have changed, but people in church and religion still find it repulsive that two men or two women would want to love each other and have a civil partnership or a marriage."

Here is a selection of your comments:

As a man in civil partnership, I would receive only a tiny pension from my partner's employer, were my partner to die. This is because his pension was earned before he retired in 1999. Were we to be "married", as my partner's widow a much larger pension would be legally enforced.

Trevor, Chertsey

I assume I will be affected by this - I suppose it's yet more of my money being used to take this to court. If all those couples are willing to put their money where their mouths are and pay for this to go to court, then fine do what you want. I would rather use the money to pay for something sensible.

Nick, Cheltenham

Not all "people in church" find gay marriage repulsive. I'm a proper church-going Christian but I would love to see more gay people in church. The only real way to encourage this is to welcome them in the same way as we do heterosexual couples and allow them to commit properly to lifelong unions. It's difficult to be open about this but I think there is a silent minority who would welcome gay marriage.

Monica, Reigate

As a bisexual who has no interest in traditional marriage, I'd like to extend the right to have a civil partnership whether I chose to spend my life with a male or female partner. Traditionalists can take their marriages and keep them.

Rosie, Brighton

So-called gay marriage goes against thousands of years of tradition that marriage is between men and women only. I believe that marriage was instituted by God for the benefit of mankind. Are we so intelligent in the 21st century that we think we know better than God?

David, Farnham, Surrey

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