A lesbian couple who applied for a marriage licence in Russia have had their application rejected.

Gay rights activists Irina Fedotova and Irina Shipitko received a hand-written rejection letter from an official at the central Moscow registry office yesterday.

Gay marriage is illegal in Russia and the couple had expected their application to be refused.

Standing outside the registry office in suits and holding flowers, the couple vowed to continue to fight to have their relationship recognised and plan to marry in Canada.

Activists say Russian law recognises marriages from other countries but a loophole means it does not specify gender.

Speaking last week, Nikolai Alekseev, the chief organiser of the Slavic Pride and the couple’s legal advisor, said: “Canada and Norway are the only countries which opened same sex marriage to non-residents.

“We initially considered flying the couple to Norway but the procedure is long and fastidious, instead, we decided to register them in Toronto under Canadian laws.

“The Russian law clearly lists all the situation which prevent to recognise a marriage abroad and, a same sex marriage is not one of them. There is a clear loophole in the Russian law that we are going to use,” he added.

The marriage licence rejection comes days before a planned pride march in Moscow.

Gay rights activists have said they will hold Slavic Pride on Saturday to coincide with the Eurovision Song Contest final, which the Russian capital is hosting.

City officials have warned they will break up any attempts to hold the march. In May 2006, more than 120 people were arrested after campaigners attempted to hold the capital’s first gay rights rally.