Heterosexual couple denied civil partnership in London

Battle for straight equality continues; Next stage: legal action in the courts in late December; 'Equal Love' campaign opposes exclusion of straight couples

13 December, 2010

Stephanie Munro and Andrew O’Neill with Peter Tatchell on the right. Photo: Brett Lock
LONDON — A heterosexual couple, Stephanie Munro and Andrew O'Neill, were refused a civil partnership at Camden Register Office on Wednesday 8 December. The registrar cited the legal ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships as the reason for the refusal.

They now plan to commence legal action in the courts, together with seven other couples. This joint legal appeal is scheduled to be launched on 21 December.

Commenting on the refusal, Stephanie Munro (27) said:

"We feel a sense of injustice. The register staff were fine but the rejection of our application still hurt. It doesn't seem fair that in a democracy we can be denied a civil partnership just because we happen to be heterosexual. Andrew and I love each other very much. We don't like marriage because of its patriarchal history. I don't want to be called a wife and Andrew doesn't husband me. We are equal partners and the language of civil partnerships better reflects the character of our relationship," she said.

Her partner Andrew O'Neill (31) added:

"Stephanie and I have been together for five years. We intend to stay together and would like legal recognition of our mutual commitment. Being turned away was sad. It makes us understand what gay couples go through when they are denied the right to marry. It's really quite insulting and offensive.

"We don't feel comfortable with the institution of marriage. But even if we were happy with it, we would not want to get married while gay couples are denied the right to marry. Part of our motivation is to support the lesbian and gay campaign for civil marriage. Even though marriage is not for us, we deplore the fact that same-sex couples are banned by law from getting married. Everyone should have the choice of a civil marriage or a civil partnership. Banning people because of their sexual orientation is cruel, unjust and anti-democratic," he said.

Stephanie Munro is an administration manager with the No2ID campaign. Andrew O'Neill, is a stand-up comedian. Both live in Camden, north London. They've been in a relationship together for five years.

Andrew and Stephanie's application is part of the Equal Love campaign, which seeks the repeal of the twin prohibitions on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships.

Stephanie and Andrew are the seventh of eight couples who are filing applications at register offices across the country, in an effort to overturn the "sexual segregation" in civil marriage and civil partnership law. They are the third straight couple to do so. Next Tuesday, 14 December, the fourth heterosexual couple will file an application at Aldershot register office.

The Equal Love campaign is organised by the gay rights group OutRage! and coordinated by the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, with the support of the Peter Tatchell Human Rights Fund.

Equal Love's campaign coordinator, Peter Tatchell, was in Camden for the civil partnership application attempt and to support Stephanie and Andrew. He said:

"Just as the ban on gay civil marriages is wrong, so too is the ban on heterosexual civil partnerships. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is as bad as discrimination based on race. Neither are acceptable in a democratic society. Everyone should be equal before the law.

"Denying heterosexual couples the right to have a civil partnership is obnoxious and discriminatory. We believe that straight couples like Stephanie and Andrew should have the option of a civil partnership, if they wish.

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

"The Equal Love campaign involves eight couples filing applications at register offices around the country. 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. Once all the applications have been refused, the eight couples will consult our lawyer and agree a joint legal action.

"Our aim is to secure equality in civil marriage and civil partnership law. We want both systems open to all couples, gay and straight, so that everyone has a free and equal choice.

"Just as gay couples should be able to marry, civil partnerships should be available to straight couples.

"Same-sex marriage is the growing trend all over the world. It exists in Canada, Argentina and South Africa, as well as seven of our European neighbours: Portugal, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. We want marriage equality in Britain too," said Mr Tatchell.

Andrew and Stephanie are being advised by the Equal Love campaign's legal expert, 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 grounds of sexual orientation, contrary to the Human Rights Act," said Professor Wintemute.

"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).

"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.

Political support for ending the ban on gay marriage is growing. London Mayor, Boris Johnson, and former Conservative Party Vice-Chair, Margot James MP, have both come out in favour of allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry in a registry office, on the same terms as heterosexual partners.

This view is also endorsed by the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, and by the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.

Both the Liberal Democrat and the Green party conferences have voted overwhelmingly in favour of ending the bans on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships. – Issued by OutRage!

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