A court has backed the Director of Public Registry who will not release marriage banns for a transsexual woman and her male partner in Malta.

In February 2007 Justice Gino Camilleri ordered the director, Anthony Geraldi, to issue the banns on the grounds that the union is legal.

He ruled, as the bride to be has now become a woman, there was no contravention of marriage legislation.

However, the Civil Court has now overturned that ruling.

Mr Geraldi argues that the change in the Act of Birth of the transsexual that allows a change of name and gender was only to protect her privacy and does not mean that she can now be considered a woman in legal terms, as her surgery was cosmetic.

His resistance to the marriage is not without popular support.

Only 18% of the Maltese population support gay marriage, a 2006 Eurobarometer survey found.

Malta is one of the most socially conservative countries in the EU.

98% of the population are Roman Catholics, and although homosexuality is legal, there remains significant prejudice.

The Mediterranean island, a British colony until 1964, has around 400,000 inhabitants and is the smallest EU state in terms of both size and population.

In 2000 the government was criticised by gay rights groups for openly homophobic statements criticising EU proposals to treat gay people equally.

Gay rights groups on the island said they would take the case of the trans woman to the European Court of Human Rights.