Current Affairs

High Court to rule on UK gay marriage case

Marc Shoffman July 28, 2006
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Judgment will be handed down early next week in the landmark High Court case on same-sex marriage.

Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, a British lesbian couple married lawfully in Canada, have challenged the UK government’s laws regarding same-sex marriage.

The case was heard by Sir Mark Potter, President of the Family Division of the High Court, last month. His judgment will be given at 930am on Monday 31 July at the High Court in London.

Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, both university professors, were legally married in a civil ceremony in Vancouver, British Columbia on 26 August 2003. Their marriage is fully recognised as a legal marriage in Canada.

The UK’s Civil Partnership Act, introduced last December, says that same-sex couples who legally marry in countries where it is possible for them to do so “are to be treated as having formed a civil partnership”.

A heterosexual couple who married abroad would automatically have their marriage recognised as a marriage in the UK. The couple said in a statement, “This is about equality. We simply want to be treated the same way as any heterosexual couple who marries abroad.”

The human rights organisation Liberty provided pro bono legal representation at the High Court hearing of the case on 6-8 June 2006. Their lawyers argued that any failure to recognise the validity of Celia and Sue’s marriage constitutes a breach of the couple’s

rights under the Human Rights Act.

This case is a historic challenge to the UK’s non-recognition of same-sex marriage. If Wilkinson and Kitzinger win in the High Court, it will pave the way for further legal action to strike down the ban on lesbian and gay marriages in Britain,” said Peter Tatchell of the gay human rights group OutRage!, which has backed the couple’s test

case from the outset.

“If the judge rules that same-sex marriages conducted abroad should be recognised in the UK, it will be difficult for the government to justify the continued illegality of same-sex marriages conducted in this country,” he said.

The couple were 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.

Their plea was 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, and he highlighted the fact that the UK recognises them as civil partners under the 2004 Civil Partnerships Act.

Barrister Helen Mountfield, for the Lord Chancellor, said the law provided a high degree of “legal recognition” to same sex partners who receive “no less favourable treatment” than married couples.

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