Gay rights group Outrage protested against the High Court’s decision to reject an application by a British lesbian couple to have their Canadian marriage recognised in the UK.

Sir Mark Potter, President of the Family Division of the High Court, ruled this morning that their union could only be recognised as a civil partnership.

Outrage’s Peter Tatchell said: “This is a flawed, homophobic judgement, which upholds discrimination and brings shame to the British legal system.”

OutRage! had backed the legal challenge by Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger from the outset.

“Sir Mark Potter’s decision defies the democratic principle that every person should be equal before the law. It contradicts the non-discrimination clauses of the Human Rights Act.

“British heterosexual couples who marry abroad have their marriage recognised automatically in the UK. To deny recognition to a lawful same-sex marriage conducted overseas is clear-cut discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Sue and Celia wanted their Canadian marriage to be given full legal recognition in the UK, in the same way that heterosexual marriages in Canada are fully recognised in British law.

“This is a temporary setback in the long struggle for marriage equality. We have lost round one, but we are confident that the non-recognition of same-sex marriage will eventually be overturned.

“We hope Sue and Celia will take their case to the Court of Appeal and, if necessary, all the way to the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights,” Mr Tatchell said.

OutRage!’s campaign organiser, Brett Lock, who was also in court for the judgement, added: “The ban on same-sex marriage in the UK is institutional homophobia.

It signals the continuing second class legal status of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

“The judge’s ruling that same-sex couples should accept the inferior status of civil partners is deeply insulting.

“Civil partnerships are not equality. The separate systems of marriage and civil partnerships are a form of sexual apartheid, with different laws for gays and straights. Marriage is for heterosexuals only, and civil partnerships are for gays only. Two wrongs do not make a right. Separate is not equal.

“Civil partnerships are second best. Nothing less than marriage equality is acceptable.

“The government’s position is that same-sex marriages conducted abroad should be accorded the status of mere civil partnerships within the UK. This view was endorsed by the judge. Marginalising same-sex relationships in this way is disturbing and offensive.

“The government’s aggressive opposition to the recognition of same-sex marriage and its successful demand for £25,000 costs against Wilkinson and Kitzinger will dismay many lesbians and gay men. It will do great damage to the government’s gay-friendly credentials.

“These punitive costs seem designed to financially damage Sue and Celia and thwart any attempt to appeal against the court’s ruling.”

“We are deeply disappointed. A different-sex couple married in Canada would automatically have their marriage recognised as a marriage in the UK. We believe that to operate a different set of rules for same-sex couples is profoundly discriminatory – an affront to social justice and human rights,” said Sue Wilkinson.

“We bought this test case to the High Court in London with the support of the human rights watchdog, Liberty, who are providing legal representation; and with the backing of OutRage!, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights group,” added Celia Kitzinger.

“The court has denied the legitimacy of our marriage. Our lawyers sought a High Court declaration of the validity of our marriage, with reference to the European Convention of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998,” concluded Ms Kitzinger.

Nigel Tart, the Green Party’s spokesperson on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, was disappointed by the judgement, he said: “I was saddened to read such a reactionary judgement.

“Marriage has a social, symbolic and emotional importance to those who decide to commit to it.

“Any people, gay and straight, will be offended by the outdated idea that the primary purpose of marriage is to produce children.

“The Green Party will continue to campaign for full marriage equality for same sex couples.”