|Yorkshire, Wednesday 11 October 2006|
LESBIAN COUPLE FIGHTS ON - BUT NOT THROUGH THE COURTS:
Appeal impossible through lack of funds
The lesbian couple whose legal Canadian marriage was declared invalid by the High Court's Family Division earlier this year has vowed to fight on.
However, university professors Sue Wilkinson, 52, and Celia Kitzinger, 50, will not be taking their fight to the Court of Appeal. They had hoped to do so, but - unusually for the Family Division - costs were awarded against them. They now face a bill of £25,000 - their life savings - for the government's legal costs. They cannot afford to finance an appeal - which could cost the same, if not more.
"This financial penalty is clearly intended to deter us from seeking justice", said Sue, "but our marriage is too important to simply give up. We will continue to fight for equal marriage rights for ourselves and for other same-sex couples." "As we cannot pursue a legal challenge, we will campaign in other ways instead", declared Celia.
Their campaign, Equal Marriage Rights _www.equalmarriagerights.org_ has so far documented the couple's own legal case and is now appealing for donations to help them meet the government's bill. Sue and Celia plan to expand the campaign to support other same-sex couples bringing legal cases, and to use the political process to advocate for marriage equality.
Speaking on behalf of Liberty, the human rights organisation which backed the couple's High Court challenge, Joanne Sawyer said: "Celia and Sue bravely took the first step on the road to securing equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. I have no doubt that the High Court judgment will in due course be viewed as being out of step with contemporary values, and wish them well in their future campaign."
Peter Tatchell of the lesbian and gay rights group OutRage! said: "We thank Sue and Celia for mounting an important, historic legal challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage. They are true pioneers in the battle for lesbian and gay equality. Although they were not successful in the courts and lack the funds to appeal, Sue and Celia have blazed a trail that others will follow. When the battle for marriage equality is finally won, people will look back and salute Sue and Celia for their pioneering contribution."
The couple legally married in Vancouver, Canada on 26 August 2003.
When the UK's Civil Partnership Act came into force in December 2005, their legal marriage was automatically converted into a civil partnership.
They mounted a landmark High Court case to challenge the British government's ban on same-sex marriage. With the support of the human rights organisation, Liberty, who provided pro bono legal representation and advice, Wilkinson and Kitzinger sought a declaration of the validity of their marriage (as a marriage, not as a civil partnership) in the UK High Court.
Their lawyers argued that any failure to recognise the validity of their marriage would constitute a breach of their human rights under the European Convention. A heterosexual couple married abroad would automatically have their marriage recognised as a marriage in the UK - treating same-sex couples differently is discriminatory.
The case was heard in June 2006, and judgment was handed down on 31 July.
Sir Mark Potter, President of the Family Division, agreed that there is discrimination between same-sex and different-sex couples. But, he ruled, this discrimination is justified in order to protect the traditional concept of marriage as between a man and a woman, primarily for the purpose of procreation; and in order to support the traditional nuclear family. He declared Wilkinson and Kitzinger's marriage invalid, and said that a same-sex relationship does not constitute a family.
Reacting to the judgment in a statement outside the court, the couple said:
For further background to the case, and a range of reactions to the High Court judgment, see the campaign's website: _www.equalmarriagerights.org_
For Liberty briefing documents and press releases, see: _Liberty_
For OutRage! articles and news releases, see: _www.petertatchell.net_ and click on Partnership.
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