UK

Gay marriage legal challenge bid stalled by paperwork

Six of the eight couples who are submitting the bid
Image caption The couples have had to postpone their attempt to submit the challenge

A bid by eight British couples to challenge the UK's ban on gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships has been postponed, campaigners have said.

Campaign group Equal Love postponed the legal challenge at the European Court of Human Rights to next month.

The couples needed the right paperwork proving they had been rejected for a marriage or civil service licence.

The group had wanted the court in Strasbourg to extend the rights of gay couples to full marriage.

Equal Love is also arguing that heterosexual couples should be entitled to form civil partnerships.

Campaigner Peter Tatchell said the delay was due to London's Camden Council mistakenly treating Stephanie Munro and Andrew O'Neil's application for a civil partnership as if they were a gay couple.

More than 40,000 same-sex couples have had their relationships recognised in law since civil partnerships were introduced in 2005.

The couples, four heterosexual and four same-sex, have all recently tried to marry or form a legally recognised civil partnership and been refused for various reasons.

Civil partnerships give same-sex couples mostly the same legal rights as married couples, but some campaigners believe the arrangement lacks the status enjoyed by marriage.

The four same-sex couples argue that they are being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

At the same time the four heterosexual couples, who have attempted to form civil partnerships and been turned down, will do the same.

Each group wants the rights afforded to the other and insists the government has an obligation to consistency.

Ms Munro, 27, and Mr O'Neill, 31, said they wanted to be equal partners in the relationship.

''We want to have a legal partnership instead of the baggage of marriage,'' she said. ''It (marriage) just doesn't sit well with us. It's got such a patriarchal history.''

The challenge has had to be taken to Europe as courts in the UK do not have the power under the Human Rights Act to force the UK government to change the law.

Mr Tatchell, who is co-ordinating the campaign, said he believed the couples would be successful in their bid.

The case could take three years, but campaigners are hoping government policy may change before that.

"We are hopeful it will be sooner, and we are even more hopeful that, having filed the application, the British Government will recognise that it is going to lose, and will therefore bring forward legislation promptly and efficiently, to end this discrimination," Mr Tatchell said.

He added: "In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. Any law that discriminates on the grounds of race, gender or sexual orientation is fundamentally flawed and contrary to both Britain's Human Rights Act and to the European convention on human rights."

In a statement the Government Equalities Office said: "We are currently considering the next steps for civil partnerships.

"Earlier this year ministers met with people and organisations holding a range of views on the issue and we are now looking at the best way to take those views forward."

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