LAWS restricting civil partnerships to gay couples discriminate against heterosexuals, four straight couples are to argue in a landmark challenge at the European Court of Human Rights.
Peter Tarchell, coordinator of the ‘Equal Love’ campaign, is supporting the cases
The couples, who do not want to have a traditional marriage, have all attempted to apply for civil partnerships at their local register office but been refused because they are not the same sex.
They say that is as discriminatory as denying gay couples the right to marry and are being supported by gay rights campaigners.
But supporters are hopeful that the case could trigger a change in law without ever having to reach court, after winning cross-party support among MPs.
They hope to add an amendment to the Government’s Same-Sex marriage Bill, currently going through the Commons, to allow heterosexual couples to opt for civil partnerships.
If successful it could transform family life in Britain, opening the way for thousands of couples to decide against marriage altogether.
They point to the Netherlands, where a decade after a change in the law, the majority of couples applying for the equivalent of civil partnerships are straight couples.
In France, the Pacte Civil de Solidarité, has also proved popular with young couples who shun the formality of marriage.
Thomas Freeman and Katherine Doyle, a couple from Islington, north London, who have been together for seven years, publicly challenged the law in 2010 when they went to their local register office to apply for a civil partnership but were refused.
Thomas Garrett and Lucy Hilken, from Aldershot, Hants; Ian Goggin and Kristin Skarsholt, from Bristol; and Andrew O’Neil and Stephanie Munro from Camden, north London, also received the same refusal.
They originally lodged their legal challenge together with four same-sex couples who are pressing for the right to marry.
If David Cameron’s plans for same-sex marriage are accepted by Parliament, the other four cases would fall away but the heterosexual couples plan to continue their challenge unless there is a change in the law.
The bill, which has already cleared the initial stage in the Commons, would allow gay couples to marry but would not reopen the question of civil partnerships. Many opponents of gay marriage have pointed to this as a double standard.
Peter Tarchell, coordinator of the “Equal Love” campaign, which is supporting the cases, said: “The Government claims that it is introducing same-sex marriage because it believes in equality, well if that’s the case why won’t it also recognise the right of heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership.
“For some people, civil partnerships are marriage without the history of sexism and without all the traditional trappings of what a wedding is supposed to be.
“It is a simple, more informal, modern form of relationship recognition.”
But he added: “I am hopeful it will get a cross party amendment to end the ban on heterosexual civil partnership.
“I would be very surprised if it doesn’t succeed.”