A legal challenge over same-sex marriage has come a step closer after a gay couple in Greenwich were refused permission to marry. They are the latest same-sex couple to apply for a marriage licence before challenging their refusal in the courts.
David Watters and Richard Hull were turned away from Greenwich Register Office on the grounds that UK law states that marriage partners have to be male and female. They declined the option of a civil partnership. While the legal rights involved in marriages and civil partnerships are almost identical, campaigners insist that the difference in language is discriminatory.
Watters and Hull are part of the Equal Love campaign, which involves four same-sex couples applying to register a marriage and four mixed-sex couples requesting a civil partnership. After all eight couples have been refused, they will take the matter to the courts.
They are the sixth couple to have been refused so far. The campaign was kicked off in October, when Rev Sharon Ferguson was refused permission to marry her female partner.
The campaign is backed by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at King's College London. Wintemute argues that the current situation breaches both UK and EU laws against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
"Being refused the licence didn't exactly come as a surprise,” admitted Watters, “What does surprise me is that society still tolerates homophobic discrimination in marriage law”.
He said he had mixed emotions, with a “great sense of sadness and anger that my love for Richard is not accorded the same respect and rights as the love that heterosexuals share”. But he added that, “It is overwhelming to be part of such an historic campaign. I have an immense feeling of hope and positivity about the eventual outcome”.
His partner Richard Hull insisted, “Our love is no less than that shared by a heterosexual couple. Speaking as a gay man who once had a heterosexual marriage, I feel cheated. I was allowed to get married when I was engaged to a woman but I am denied this option when I want to marry David.”
He explained, “I don't want to settle for a civil partnership which, for us, is not an adequate option".
David Watters is a personal development consultant, writer on equality issues and author of Never Blend In: The legacy of Harvey Milk. Richard Hull is a catering manager and chef. They have been together in a relationship for six years.
Peter Tatchell, who attended the register office with Watters and Hull, said, "A similar ban on Asian or Jewish marriages would provoke fierce condemnation and mass protests. So why are so many people silent about the ban on gay marriages?"
The Equal Love campaigners argue that public attitudes have shifted strongly in favour of allowing same-sex couples to marry. They point out that 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.