UK lesbian couple humiliated in Hampshire

Register office staff unhelpful & obstructive; Legal action now planned by Katie & Colette; Gay marriage ban violates Human Rights Act; 'Equal Love' campaign seeks gay marriages & straight civil partnerships

2 December, 2010

Colette French and Katie Green. Photo: Brett Lock
LONDON — A lesbian couple's application for a civil marriage licence was today rejected by Petersfield register office in Hampshire, southern England.

The register office staff – Lesley Romano and Gaynor Russell – refused to put their rejection in writing and were described by the lesbian couple as "officious, unhelpful, obstructive and dismissive."

Colette French (21) and her partner Katie Green (21) applied for a civil marriage, in a direct challenge to the ban on same-sex marriages.

They were turned away on the grounds that UK law does not allow same-sex couples to marry.

Responding to the refusal, a visibly upset Katie Green said:

"We expected to be refused but we were not expecting to be treated so unkindly. I felt humiliated and not respected. The staff didn't seem willing to listen or comprehend our case. They kept on interrupting us and offering us a civil partnership, which we kept telling them we didn't want. It was like being back in school and being lectured to. I found it a very unpleasant experience.

"The rejection of our application for a civil marriage was expected, but nonetheless still very disappointing. We've been denied our human right to have a civil marriage. Our rejection highlights the unjust and undemocratic nature of segregating gay and straight couples in separate institutions. In a democracy, public institutions should be open to all, without discrimination. As part of the Equal Love campaign, Colette and I now plan to use the courts to overturn the ban on same-sex civil marriage.

"Being able to get married means a lot to us. This rejection is just a momentary setback in the long struggle for marriage equality," she said.

An also distressed Colette French added:

"We were not treated with dignity and respect. The staff told us verbally that we could not be married because the law prohibits same-sex marriage. We asked them to put this in writing but they were unwilling to do so. They seemed needlessly unhelpful. They have referred us to the head registrar. We intend to pursue the matter. All the previous couples were given letters of rejection and were treated with great sympathy and courtesy. We are perplexed by the attitude of the register staff at Petersfield.

"We are sad that our desire for a civil marriage has been blocked. Rejecting us on the grounds of our sexuality is frustrating and discriminatory. I love Katie and want our love to be validated through a civil marriage. We will continue to fight this injustice through the courts, together with the seven other gay and straight couples who are part of the Equal Love campaign. We're confident that the ban on gay marriage will be eventually overturned. It is against the spirit and letter of the Human Rights Act. We are proud to part of this historic campaign for equal rights," she concluded.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who accompanied Colette and Katie to the register office, later spoke with the register office staff:

"I was shocked by their unnecessarily obstructive manner. They were not listening to Katie and Colette. I tried to reason with them but they were curt and dismissive. This is the first time in the Equal Love campaign that register office staff have been unhelpful. Both women left the register office very upset. They were upset not by the rejection of their application but by the way they were treated," he said.

Colette French is an administrator and Katie Green is a student at of International Relations and Politics at Portsmouth University. Both were born in Portsmouth. They have been together in a relationship for two years.

The couple's bid is part of the new Equal Love campaign, which is seeking to overturn the twin prohibitions on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships.

The 'Equal Love' campaign is coordinated by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and sponsored by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights organisation OutRage!, with the support of the Peter Tatchell Human Rights Fund.

"Katie and Colette are the fifth of eight couples to challenge these twin bans, and the third same-sex couple to do so" said Equal Love coordinator Peter Tatchell.

"In the coming weeks, a total of eight couples will file applications at their local register offices. 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.

"We expect that all eight couples will be turned away. They will then launch a joint legal action to end sexual orientation discrimination in civil marriage and civil partnership law.

"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.

"A similar ban on black marriages would provoke an outcry. So why should the ban on gay marriages be tolerated?

"The bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships are a form of sexual apartheid - one law for gay couples and another law for heterosexual partners. Two wrongs don't make a right," said Mr Tatchell.

The Equal Love campaign's legal advisor is Professor 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 ground of sexual orientation, contrary to the Human Rights Act. 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)," said Professor Wintemute.

"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.

Public attitudes in Britain 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. – Issued by OutRage!

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