A lesbian couple seeking UK recognition for their marriage in Canada began their case at the High Court today.

University professors Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger were married lawfully in Canada in August 2003, while Sue was working there, after the province of British Columbia opened up marriage to same-sex couples.

Their marriage is fully recognised in Canada, but the UK’s Civil Partnership Act says that same-sex couples who legally marry overseas “are to be treated as having formed a civil partnership”. Sue and Celia want the UK to recognise their marriage as a marriage, not as a civil partnership.

The couple are represented by Matrix Chambers, their lawyer, Karon Monaghan, told the court, “Exclusionary marriage laws have been used historically to reflect and bolster prejudice, oppression and discrimination against marginalized groups,” Monaghan told the court. Such laws “are now being dispensed into the jurisprudential dustbin.”

“Having regard to the Human Rights Act, such laws cannot survive.”

She described the laws barring the recognition of their marriage as “repugnant”.

Their legal case is part of an international movement to secure the global recognition of Canadian same-sex marriages. In Ireland, another lesbian couple married in Canada, Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, are mounting a similar legal challenge in the Irish courts There are also challenges pending in Israel, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Ms Wilkinson said in a statement to the court, “It is important to both of us that we are recognised as partners in life by the world at large.”

The case is being heard by Sir Mark Potter, President of the Family Division. It is opposed by the Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer, who said in documents submitted to the court that any overseas marriage between a couple that cannot marry in England and Wales, would not be recognised by law.

The hearing is expected to last three days, with a judgment to be delivered later.