A plan to test the UK's ban on gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships has been stalled by a local government council incorrectly replying to one of eight English couples set on arguing the twin bans are unlawful and should be reversed.
Four gay couples who have been refused marriage licences at register offices across England, along with four heterosexual couples wanting to be legally recognised as civil partners, planned on filing a joint application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
To lodge the application, all couples need paperwork proving they have applied for a marriage or civil service licence and been rejected. Because Camden Council mistook heterosexual couple Stephanie Munro and Andrew O'Neill as a gay couple, the "Equal Love" campaign to test gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships has been stalled until at least next month, co-ordinator Peter Tatchell said.
Ms Munro, 27, said she and Mr O'Neill, 31, did not want to get married because they saw themselves as "equal partners" rather than as husband and wife.
"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 by the eight couples is being lodged with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg because courts in the UK do not have the power under the Human Rights Act to order the UK Government to change the law, Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights law, Kings College London, said.
If the application is successful, the British Government will be required to amend the law to open up civil partnerships to heterosexual couples, and to allow gay partners to have civil marriages, Mr Tatchell said.
"We are very confident that eventually the European Court of Human Rights will overturn both the ban on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships," he said. "These bans are a form of discrimination and discrimination is contrary to the principles of the European Convention."
Mr Tatchell said the formal application would now be filed sometime in January. "It could take anywhere between two and five years to get a result," he said.
Civil partnerships became legal for gay couples in the UK in 2005, with the first ceremony taking place on December 21.