Lesbian couple’s joy at marriage law reforms

Sue Wilkinson and her partner Celia Kitzinger who live near Holme on Spalding Moor in East YorkshireSue Wilkinson and her partner Celia Kitzinger who live near Holme on Spalding Moor in East Yorkshire
Sue Wilkinson and her partner Celia Kitzinger who live near Holme on Spalding Moor in East Yorkshire
STANDING outside the High Court in 2006 after a judge had rejected a bid to have their marriage recognised in law, lesbian couple Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger predicted the decision “would not stand the test of time”.

Less than eight years on, and as one of the first same sex couples in the country to be legally married, they have been proved right much quicker than they ever thought possible.

The couple, both university professors who live in Gribthorpe, near Howden in East Yorkshire, became officially married as of 12.01am today as the 2013 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force.

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They married in Canada in 2003 but have not worn their wedding rings in the UK since 2006 when their challenge to the UK’s refusal to recognise same sex marriage was rejected by a High Court judge.

Judge Sir Mark Potter ruled that under English law, there was an “insurmountable hurdle” to their marriage being recognised as legally the same as a heterosexual union, though he understood the “hurt, humiliation and outrage” felt by the couple at the state’s refusal to recognise their union as a fully fledged marriage.

He also refused to give the couple a formal declaration that English law, as it stood, was “incompatible” with the human rights of gay couples.

Professor Kitzinger, 57, who works in the Sociology department at the University of York, said: “The judge said we were discriminated against but it was justified to protect the traditional view of marriage and the heterosexual nuclear family.

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“There was a sense that somehow letting same sex couples marry would ruin it for heterosexuals and that they wouldn’t want to get married if we could. We were not that surprised to lose at the time and it was only eight years ago.

“We said this judgement will not stand the test of time and we would look forward to the day when there would be full equality, we didn’t expect it to change so quickly.”

Speaking after the new law was passed last year, Women and Equalities Minister Maria Miller said the move “demonstrates our society’s respect for all individuals regardless of their sexuality”.

Same sex couples not already in civil partnerships can now give notice of their intention to marry, though the ceremonies cannot take place until March 29. Those already married in other countries have their status formally recognised from today.

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The couple were due to mark the occasion today with a glass of champagne, but will celebrate at an event organised on March 28 by the University of York to mark the introduction of the new Act.

Professor Wilkinson, 60, a professor of Feminist and Health Studies at Loughborough University, said she was “thrilled” her 11-year marriage would finally be recognised.

Prior to the High Court battle, the couple said the UK’s failure to recognise the legality of their vows was a breach of the their human rights.

Professor Wilkinson said: “One of the things the Government’s barrister said at the High Court which we found particularly offensive was that we could always pretend to be married and no-one would know.

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“We thought that if anyone thought we might be married we should take our rings off. That was the point at which we took the rings off. We have taken them off but but whenever we have been in a country that does recognise same sex marriage we put them on again.

“It just felt so daft, a heterosexual couple that gets married is married everywhere in the world. I wouldn’t want to knock civil partnerships as they were a huge step forward for lesbian and gay rights.

“But we already had a marriage in Canada and we didn’t want a different and special status in the UK.”

Same sex couples in England and Wales who want to be among the first to marry can give notice to their local register office from today.

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For most marriages or civil partnerships at least 16 days’ notice is required, meaning the first same sex marriages can take place on March 29.

Couples wishing to convert civil partnerships into marriages, and married people wanting to change their legal gender while remaining married, will be able to do so before the end of 2014.

A same sex marriage can only take place in a religious building if the religious organisation has “opted in” to hold them and the minister agrees.