A Christian minister has today (2 November) been refused permission to marry her female partner at Greenwich Register Office in London. Rev Sharon Ferguson and her partner Franka Streitzel declined the option of a civil partnership because of their belief in the sanctity of marriage as a “God-given institution”.
Ferguson and Streitzel's application for a civil marriage is the first step in the Equal Love campaign, which is preparing to take legal action over marriage rights. Four same-sex couples will apply for marriage, while four mixed-sex couples will request civil partnerships.
All eight couples will almost certainly be refused. They will then begin legal action, arguing that the current law constitutes discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and thus breaches human rights law.
After leaving the register office today, Ferguson said, “It would have been lovely to be able to continue to make plans for our wedding and even though I knew we would be rejected I still feel quite sad”.
She added, “On a positive note, we were treated with the greatest of dignity by the registrar and our application was taken seriously. We will be collecting an official letter of rejection stating the reasons why”.
Ferguson, who is pastor of North London Metropolitan Community Church, told Ekklesia that, “We will now concentrate on supporting the other couples in the campaign and preparing for the legal challenge. We are still determined to change the law so that we can all celebrate our love in whatever legal arrangement is considered right by each couple regardless of sexual orientation.”
The next stage in the campaign will come in a week's time, on 9 November, when Katherine Doyle and Tom Freeman will apply for a civil partnership at Islington Register Office.
The Equal Love campaign is backed by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
The eight couples involved include people with various religious and non-religious motivations. They are all committed to the principle that both marriage and civil partnership should be legally recognised options for both same-sex and mixed-sex couples.
Kristin Skarsholt and Ian Goggin, a Quaker couple who will apply for a civil partnership in Bristol, say that they are motivated by Quaker principles of equality. Goggin said that the current system keeps same-sex and mixed-sex couples “separate for the sake of being separate”.
He told Ekklesia that he sees a civil partnership as partly about simplicity, “paring off the bits of marriage that you really don't want and keeping all the socially positive elements and the bits about commitment”.
The campaigners are receiving legal advice from Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at King's College London. Wintemute insisted last week that, “Separate is not equal and words do matter”.