A lesbian couple have been refused the right to hold a civil marriage at Petersfield Register Office in Hampshire. But unlike other couples who have attempted to challenge the ban on same-sex marriage, they say that they were treated offensively and dismissively by register office staff.
Collette French and Katie Green made their application today (30 November) as part of the Equal Love campaign, which is calling for both same-sex and mixed-sex couples to have the right to choose between a marriage and a civil partnership.
The campaign involves four same-sex couples applying for marriage and four mixed-sex couples requesting a civil partnership. After all eight couples have been refused, they will launch a legal challenge.
French and Green are the fifth of the eight couples to make their attempt. But whereas other couples have thanked register office staff for their helpfulness and understanding, the staff at Petersfield were described as “officious, unhelpful, obstructive and dismissive”.
UK law currently recognises marriages only between members of different sexes. Since 2005, same-sex couples have been given the right to a civil partnership. This confers almost exactly the same rights but in different language. Campaigners argue that this is discriminatory.
Collette French said, “The staff told us verbally that we could not be married because the law prohibits same-sex marriage. We asked them to put this in writing but they were unwilling to do so.”
The couple say that they were taken aback by this refusal, because the previous four couples had all been treated politely and given a refusal in writing.
"We expected to be refused but we were not expecting to be treated so unkindly,” said Katie Green, “I felt humiliated and not respected”.
She explained, “The staff didn't seem willing to listen or comprehend our case. They kept on interrupting us and offering us a civil partnership, which we kept telling them we didn't want. It was like being back in school and being lectured to. I found it a very unpleasant experience.”
The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who accompanied the couple to the register office, said that he was shocked by the staff's “unnecessarily obstructive manner”.
“They were not listening to Katie and Colette,” he insisted, “I tried to reason with them but they were curt and dismissive. This is the first time in the Equal Love campaign that register office staff have been unhelpful. Both women left the register office very upset. They were upset not by the rejection of their application but by the way they were treated.”
The Equal Love challenge was kicked off in October when Rev Sharon Ferguson was denied the right to marry her partner at Greenwich Register Office.
The campaign is backed by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. Other supporters include Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at King's College London. He argues that the current set-up constitutes discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
Despite their treatment in the register office, Green and French insist that they are determined to continue with their campaign.
“I love Katie and want our love to be validated through a civil marriage,” said French, “We will continue to fight this injustice through the courts”.
She concluded, “We're confident that the ban on gay marriage will be eventually overturned. It is against the spirit and letter of the Human Rights Act. We are proud to [be]part of this historic campaign for equal rights.”