As news of a royal engagement was announced this morning (16 November), a gay couple were refused permission to marry at Northampton Register Office. They declined the option of a civil partnership, insisting that marriage should be open to all.
Matthew Toreson, 48 and Scott Maloney, 42, applied for the right to marry as part of a direct challenge to the ban on legal recognition for same-sex marriage.
Their application forms part of the Equal Love campaign, which involves four same-sex couples applying for marriages and four mixed-sex couples asking for civil partnerships. After all eight couples have been refused, they will launch a legal challenge.
The Equal Love campaign was kicked off on 2 November, when Rev Sharon Ferguson was refused permission to marry her female partner at Greenwich Register Office. The next week, Islington Register Office turned down an application for a civil partnership between Katherine Doyle and Tom Freeman.
Toreson and Maloney were refused permission to marry within hours of an announcement by William Windsor, second in line to the British throne, that he will marry his girlfriend Kate Middleton next year. The announcement prompted a frenzy of media coverage.
"We've been together for eighteen years and love each other very much,” explained Toreson, “We want to get married. It means a lot to us”.
But he continued, “Although this rejection is hurtful, it is just a temporary setback in the long struggle for marriage equality. Next month, together with other couples, we will bring a joint legal action in the courts to challenge the ban on same-sex marriage."
Maloney added that the couple are “confident that the ban on gay marriage will be overturned”. He said, “It is against the spirit and letter of the Human Rights Act. We are proud to part of this historic campaign for equal rights.”
The Equal Love campaign is co-ordinated by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and supported by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.
Peter Tatchell said, “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”.
He added, "A similar ban on black marriages would provoke an outcry. So why should the ban on gay marriages be tolerated?”
The Equal Love campaign's legal advisor is Professor Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at Kings College London. He argues that the ban on same-sex marriage is in breach of the Human Rights Act.
“Language does matter,” said Maloney, “Marriage is universally understood as a meaningful commitment”.
A Populus opinion poll in June 2009 found that 61 per cent of the public believe that, "gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships". Only 33 per cent disagreed.