Eight couples, four of them gay and four straight, will launch a joint application to the European Court of Human Rights tomorrow in a bid to overturn the UK bans on gay civil marriages and straight civil partnerships.
Campaign group Equal Love is launching the action tomorrow, on the fifth anniversary of the first civil partnership ceremonies in England.
Peter Tatchell, founder of gay rights group OutRage! and coordinator of Equal Love, said four same-sex couples had been refused marriage licenses at registry offices in Greenwich, Northampton and Petersfield.
“During the same period four heterosexual couples were turned away when they applied for civil partnerships in Islington, Camden, Bristol and Aldershot,” Tatchell said.
“Since there is no difference in the rights and responsibilities involved in gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships, there is no point or justification in having two mutually exclusive and discriminatory systems.
“Outlawing black marriages would provoke uproar. The prohibition on gay marriages should provoke similar outrage.
“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.”
Professor Robert Wintemute, from the law school of King College, London, and the legal adviser to Equal Love, said the existing bans violated articles 8 (right to family life),12 (right to marry) and 14 (freedom from discrimination) of the ECHR.
“I am confident that we have a good chance of persuading the European Court of Human Rights that the UK’s system of segregating couples into two ‘separate but equal’ legal institutions violates the convention.
“I would predict that same-sex couples will be granted access to marriage in the UK and that this will be because the government will eventually accept that it cannot defend the current discriminatory system,” he said.
The press conference, in the great hall of King’s College, will be followed by a discussion chaired by Lord Lester.