EXCLUSIVE: Gay couple lead campaign to challenge UK ban on same-sex weddings

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A GAY couple from Northampton who say “nearly equal is not enough” will today seek the right for a civil marriage licence, in direct challenge of the UK’s ban on same-sex weddings.

Matthew Toresen and Scott Maloney applied for the licence at Northampton Register Office in a direct challenge to the UK’s legal ban on same-sex marriage.

The couple’s bid is part of the Equal Love campaign, which seeks to overturn the twin prohibitions on gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships.

Today Peter Tatchell, co-ordinator of the campaign, said their application had been refused this morning but the couple will take their fight to the courts.

He said Mr Maloney, 42, and Mr Toresen, 48, who have been together for 18 years, are one of eight couples taking legal action.

“Although Scott and Matthew were refused a civil marriage, this is not the end of the story,” he said.

“In late December, together with seven other gay and straight couples, they will file a joint legal action in the courts in a bid to overturn the twin bans on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships.

“We are confident that the court will eventually rule in our favour.

“The refusal was expected but it has stiffened our resolve to challenge sexual orientation discrimination.

“This is not a gay rights campaign, it is a campaign to also secure the rights of heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership if they wish.

“Scott and Matthew clearly love each other very much, they have been together for 18 years.

“It’s really offensive that they can’t get married like their heterosexual friends and family.

“If the government banned black people from getting married and offered them civil partnerships instead, it would provoke public outrage.

“It is equally outrageous for the government to deny gay couples the right to marry.

“In democratic society, we should all be equal before the law - civil marriages should be open to gay couples and civil partnerships should be open to heterosexual couples.”

Mr Tatchell said the couple, from Northampton, are the third of the eight couples across the country - four heterosexual and four gay couples - to make their applications.

“Each week from November 2 to December 14, one couple is filing an application,” he added.

“We plan to use their letters of refusal as evidence in the legal action.”

Mr Toresen said they were disappointed but not surprised by today’s refusal.

He said: “It’s disappointing but it’s the state of the law in this country. We knew it would be refused but we felt it important to hear that in person.

“Scott and I have been together for 18 years, it’s a very serious relationship. We love each other very much and we are very, very committed.

“I have got two brothers who are married and it just seemed farcical to us that we can’t go through the same legal process and same celebration that they have gone through.

“We have considered civil partnerships in the past and thought that wasn’t for us, we wanted equality rather than something else that had been added on.

“Today has certainly strengthened our resolve.”

Mr Maloney added: “Language does matter. Marriage is universally understood as a meaningful commitment.

“It seems to me morally right that we all should have the same compact with the state.

“As a gay man, I am expected to pay taxes, obey the laws and, if necessary, defend this country like everybody else. In return, I expect the state to treat me equally.”

The Equal Love campaign’s legal advisor Professor Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at Kings College London, said: “By excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage, and different-sex couples from civil partnership, the UK Government is discriminating on the ground of sexual orientation, contrary to the Human Rights Act.

“The twin bans violate Article 14 (protection against discrimination), Article 12 (the right to marry) and Article 8 (the right to respect for family life).

“The rights attached to civil marriage and civil partnership are identical, especially with regard to adoption of children, donor insemination, and surrogacy.

“There is no longer any justification for excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage and different-sex couples from civil partnership.

“It’s like having separate drinking fountains or beaches for different racial groups, even though the water is the same. The only function of the twin bans is to mark lesbian and gay people as inferior to heterosexual people.”

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “Current legislation does not afford same-sex couples the right to marriage, or heterosexual couples the right to a civil partnership.

“Under the current provisions of section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, a marriage is not valid where parties are not respectively male and female.

“Under section 3(1) of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, two people are not eligible to register as civil partners of each other if they are not of the same sex.

“Our registrars are acting on behalf of the Registrar General for England and Wales and would be in breach of legislation if they permitted this to go ahead.”