“It is a big disappointment that the Labour Party conference has not debated or voted on ending the gay marriage ban. The issue has been also ignored by Labour’s National Executive Committee and National Policy Forum. Why?” queried human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

“This leaves Labour ranking alongside the Conservatives, with no official party policy in support of same-sex marriage.

“Labour trails badly behind the Greens and Liberal Democrats, both of which have passed conference resolutions urging the legalisation of same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships. Similar resolutions have been passed by the GMB and Unison conferences. It’s catch-up time for Labour.

“Ed Miliband personally supports same-sex marriage; although he is silent about lifting the ban on civil partnerships for heterosexual couples.

“I’d be surprised if a majority of Labour members and MPs did not support repealing these discriminatory laws. So, why no conference vote and no official policy?

“Labour’s failure to endorse marriage equality calls into question its commitment to gay rights and human rights.

“In the absence of parliamentary reform, eight British couples – four gay and four straight – in February filed a joint legal application to the European Court of Human Rights, seeking to overturn the twin bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships

“They are part of the Equal Love campaign – www.equallove.org.uk – which seeks to open up both civil marriages and civil partnerships to all couples, without discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Outlawing Jewish people from getting married would provoke uproar and accusations of anti-Semitism. The prohibition on gay civil marriages should provoke similar outrage, as should the exclusion of heterosexual couples from civil partnerships.

“The bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships create a system of legal segregation, with one law for gay couples and another law for heterosexual partners. Two wrongs don’t make a right. In a democratic society, we should all be equal before the law,” added Mr Tatchell.

The legal advisor to the eight couples and author of the legal application to the European Court of Human Rights is Professor Robert Wintemute of the School of Law at Kings College London. Outlining the legal basis of the Equal Love challenge, he explained:

“By excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage, and different-sex couples from civil partnership, the UK Government is discriminating on the ground of sexual orientation, contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. Specifically, the twin bans violate Article 14 (protection against discrimination), Article 12 (the right to marry) and Article 8 (the right to privacy and respect for family life). The only function of the twin bans is to mark lesbian and gay people as inferior to heterosexual people,” said Professor Wintemute.

Nearly two-thirds of the British people back marriage equality. In June 2009, a Populus opinion poll found that 61% of the public believe: “Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships.” Only 33% disagreed. We can probably safely assume that a similar poll today would reveal even greater support for gay civil marriages – and for the right of heterosexuals to have a civil partnerships.

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