A lesbian couple were turned away from a registry office yesterday when they tried to apply to marry.

Colette French and Katie Green, both 21, were turned away from Petersfield Register Office in Hampshire and refused a letter of rejection, which is usually given to couples denied a marriage.

The pair’s bid was part of the Equal Love campaign, in which eight gay and straight couples are challenging the UK’s bans on gay marriage and straight civil partnerships.

Ms Green, a student, said: “We expected to be refused but we were not expecting to be treated so unkindly. I felt humiliated and not respected. 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.”

She added that the denial was “expected, but nonetheless still very disappointing” and that she and Ms French would pursue their case in the courts with a view to opening up marriage and civil partnerships to all.

Ms French said: “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 part of this historic campaign for equal rights.”

The campaign is being organised by gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, who said it was the first time that register office staff had been unhelpful.

“Both women left the register office very upset,” he said. “They were upset not by the rejection of their application but by the way they were treated.”

Mr Tatchell added: “We see the Equal Love campaign as a historic quest for justice; morally equivalent to the campaigns to overturn the bans on inter-racial marriage in apartheid South Africa and the Deep South of the USA.

“A similar ban on black marriages would provoke an outcry. So why should the ban on gay marriages be tolerated?”

Hampshire registry services had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.