By David Equality Watters Wed, Aug 31, 2011
Katie and Colette were the fifth of eight couples to challenge the current twin bans on same-sex Civil Marriage and opposite-sex Civil Partnerships in the United Kingdom.
Photos of Katie and Colette at Petersfield register office by Brett Lock
Perhaps on first meeting Colette French and Katie Green, your impression would be that these are two young women who are such polar opposites that forming a lasting relationship could never be a possibility. How wrong you would be! What is it they say about opposites and attraction? Well, this inspiring couple are living proof.
Both born in Portsmouth, England, Colette French, an administrator, and Katie Green, a recent graduate of International Relations and Politics from Portsmouth University, have been together for over three years.
Katie and Colette were the fifth of eight couples to challenge the current twin bans on same-sex Civil Marriage and opposite-sex Civil Partnerships in the United Kingdom as part of the current Equal Love Campaign (www.equallove.org.uk).
Here Colette and Katie explain how their differences are what make them a strong and united team in their daily lives and in their work towards social equality.
In outlining their relationship, sharing personal insights of how they met and the personal qualities which enrich their relationship, the couple demonstrate the commonality of human relationships and shine a light upon our similarities, helping, in part, to remove the “us and them” perspective currently so predominant in our society.
The couple met whilst still in High School, through Colette’s twin sister. Katie explains, “I first met Colette through her twin sister, who used to share the same classes with me at school. Unfortunately at school it wasn’t really an option to be openly gay, so any first feelings I had for Colette were pushed aside until three years after we had left. Throughout those years, Colette and I went our separate ways, until a brief encounter with her at my work place led to me nervously asking her out on a date. We have now been together for three years, but sometimes wonder if a relationship could have formed earlier if not for the homophobia that is rife in schools.”
Colette recalls, “It makes me laugh, as Katie was far more headstrong and emotionally developed than all of us at school; she had an aura about her, and her charisma shone through. Nothing has changed! She is so finely tuned that I wonder how I can connect with her. I feel Katie helps me in ways sometimes I cannot comprehend. She seems to always be a step ahead, thinking of things I have never thought about. Katie is always rationalising, and debating how to act on Human Rights issues. She doesn’t rest until she has thought up how she can have the maximum effect on these issues. Katie has a knack for realising the potential people have and showing how it can be used. Within this, she has helped me effortlessly, and at times I wonder if she understands the magnitude of the help she has given. She takes it all in her stride. I seriously wonder if Katie understands how rational, selfless and utterly indescribable she is.”
The mutual love, respect and admiration this couple share is clearly evident and is confirmed by Katie when she says, “I quite often tell Colette how she keeps me grounded; if it wasn’t for her my head would constantly be living in the future. I quite often run on overtime contemplating ways of how to achieve equality in the realm of Human Rights and how to eliminate economic disparities. Colette helps me to live in the here and now and how these things can be achieved in a life time. She does this through her effortless ability to remain calm and relaxed.”
Both became involved with the Equal Love Campaign in the UK because they believe that separate institutions illustrate inequality in society. In this instance, the separate institutions are Civil Partnerships, currently only available to same-sex partners, and Civil Marriage, currently reserved for heterosexual couples.
Colette’s view is: “I believe in equality, and the institutions which exist at the moment are not equal and create an inferior position for gay couples. In a democratic state, we have a right to choose which institution we wish to be part of. Katie and I believe that these issues perpetuate the inequalities which currently exist in society. We both hold strong beliefs within Human Rights, and we want to fight for what we believe is right. We would like to see heterosexual and gay couples with the choice of either a Civil Marriage or Civil Partnership.”
Colette’s belief is echoed by Katie, who wanted to get involved with the Equal Love Campaign because she believes that being denied access to an institution in a democratic society is contradictory and that “…open institutions are a core democratic principle. Furthermore, the current segregation of opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples perpetuates many of the existing inequalities same-sex couples face. We feel that this campaign will not only affect the institutions of Civil Marriage and Civil Partnership but will in turn have a wider effect on society.”
Humiliated in Hampshire
The Equal Love Campaign involved a process whereby 8 couples, four heterosexual and four homosexual, were required to obtain evidence of exclusion from either Civil Partnership or Civil Marriage. This meant each couple filing an application for the institution to which they are currently denied. The letters confirming exclusion were then collated and used by legal advisor Professor Robert Wintermute, Professor of Human Rights Law at Kings College London, to file an Application to the European Court of Human Rights, challenging the twin bans.
“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 Human Rights Act. The twin bans violate Article 14 (protection against discrimination), Article 12 (the right to marry) and Article 8 (the right to respect for family life),” explains Professor Wintemute.
Prior to their Civil Marriage Application, both Colette and Katie felt a combination of apprehension and hopefulness. Prior to their Application Day, Colette said, “I am excited. I am honoured to be part of this campaign, especially with the prospect of being successful. Obviously, I am slightly nervous, but I think my tenacity will overthrow my nerves!”
Katie, more excited than nervous, said, “I am excited about the likely prospect of the campaign being a success, and I feel honoured to take part. I am nervous about being able to articulate thoughts and feelings into words.”
Aware that the application would be rejected on the grounds that the couple are of the same gender, no one could have predicted the disrespectful treatment that they received in November 2010.
The couple’s application for a Civil Marriage licence was not only rejected by the Petersfield register office in Hampshire, southern England, but the register office staff – Lesley Romano and Gaynor Russell – refused to put their rejection in writing and were described by the couple as “officious, unhelpful, obstructive and dismissive.”
Responding to the refusal, a visibly upset Katie Green said:
“We expected to be refused, but we were not expecting to be treated so unkindly. I felt humiliated and not respected. The staff didn’t seem willing to listen or comprehend our case. They kept on interrupting us and offering us a Civil Partnership, which we kept telling them we didn’t want. It was like being back in school and being lectured to. I found it a very unpleasant experience.
“The rejection of our application for a Civil Marriage was expected, but nonetheless still very disappointing. We’ve been denied our human right to have a Civil Marriage. Our rejection highlights the unjust and undemocratic nature of segregating gay and straight couples in separate institutions. In a democracy, public institutions should be open to all, without discrimination. As part of the Equal Love Campaign, Colette and I now plan to use the courts to overturn the ban on same-sex civil marriage.
“Being able to get married means a lot to us. This rejection is just a momentary setback in the long struggle for marriage equality,” she said.
Also distressed, Colette French added:
“We were not treated with dignity and respect. The staff told us verbally that we could not be married because the law prohibits same-sex marriage. We asked them to put this in writing, but they were unwilling to do so. They seemed needlessly unhelpful. They have referred us to the head registrar. We intend to pursue the matter. All the previous couples were given letters of rejection and were treated with great sympathy and courtesy. We are perplexed by the attitude of the register staff at Petersfield.
“We are sad that our desire for a Civil Marriage has been blocked. Rejecting us on the grounds of our sexuality is frustrating and discriminatory. I love Katie and want our love to be validated through a Civil Marriage. We will continue to fight this injustice through the courts, together with the seven other gay and straight couples who are part of the Equal Love Campaign. We’re confident that the ban on gay marriage will be eventually overturned. It is against the spirit and letter of the Human Rights Act. We are proud to be part of this historic campaign for equal rights,” she concluded.
Katie and Collete pictured with Peter Tatchell
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who accompanied Colette and Katie to the register office, later spoke with the register office staff:
“I was shocked by their unnecessarily obstructive manner. They were not listening to Katie and Colette. I tried to reason with them, but they were curt and dismissive. This is the first time in the Equal Love Campaign that register office staff have been unhelpful. Both women left the register office very upset. They were upset not by the rejection of their application but by the way they were treated,” he said.
The Equal Love Campaign’s legal advisor Professor Robert Wintemute said:
“The rights attached to Civil Marriage and Civil Partnership are identical, especially with regard to adoption of children, donor insemination and surrogacy. There is no longer any justification for excluding same-sex couples from Civil Marriage and different-sex couples from Civil Partnership. It’s like having separate drinking fountains or beaches for different racial groups, even though the water is the same. The only function of the twin bans is to mark lesbian and gay people as inferior to heterosexual people.”
Explaining their bid for marriage equality, Katie Green said:
“We love each other and want to formalise our relationship. Marriage is the universally recognised system of love and commitment. We want to be part of it, to secure the ultimate recognition of our relationship.
“In a democracy, institutions should reflect society and be open to all. Civil Partnerships and Civil Marriages offer almost the same rights and responsibilities. Therefore, it seems the only reason that marriage has a closed-door policy towards lesbian and gay couples is to denote their inferior status.
“Segregating gay couples into Civil Partnerships perpetuates homophobic prejudice and discrimination,” she said.
Her partner Colette French added:
“The ban on gay marriage denies us a democratic right. Not allowing us to register our commitment to each other as a marriage reinforces and promotes inequality.
“Love is equal and should be recognised as such. Failure to open up marriage to all couples sends out the message that lesbian and gay couples are not on par with our heterosexual counterparts.
“I have a lasting commitment to Katie and wish to register this through a Civil Marriage. I feel that Civil Partnerships were set up as a second-class institution to deny us equality with opposite-sex couples,” she said.
Despite the unnecessary rudeness and disrespect that the couple experienced, both remain extremely positive about the cultural shift and future legal recognition of same-sex relationships.
Colette is of the opinion that “[t]his campaign is absolutely 100% about the Human Rights of ALL couples. There is no doubt that both heterosexual and gay couples are being discriminated against. We are fighting this campaign as one because inequality affects us all in society.”
In absolute agreement is Katie, who explains that “[t]his campaign is whole-heartedly about the human rights of all couples. After all, it would not be possible to achieve equality without the human rights of all couples taken into consideration.”
Both are hopeful that the campaign will ultimately achieve a positive outcome.
“I hope that young people (particularly school age) will see this campaign and think positively about their own sexuality. I see this campaign as a turning point in the fight to recognise gay rights as human rights. The history of the struggle for gay liberation has used a separate-but-equal notion; this has been most effective. However, now, through that entire struggle, we have reached a point where we can achieve pure equality. I see this campaign as large as this: it is not just about institutions but the wider effects on society.” – Katie Green
Describing her vision of this outcome in terms of personal and social progress, Colette states, “I believe that the campaign can achieve a positive outcome, and I find it difficult to see how it couldn’t. I personally would like to see equality for heterosexual and gay couples, with the right to the choice of both Civil Marriage and Civil Partnership.
“If the campaign is successful, I would hope for a shift in modern thinking and the view of society. By allowing heterosexual and gay couples the right to both institutions, society is showing a full understanding of the rights of all couples. Thus, opening up Civil Marriage and Civil Partnerships would reflect a change in the way heterosexual and gay rights are viewed. Hopefully, this view could help people struggling with their sexuality to feel more comfortable and respected in society rather than feeling like a second-class citizen.”
No doubt many, if not all, readers will agree with International Relations and Politics graduate Katie’s sentiment: “I hope that young people (particularly school age) will see this campaign and think positively about their own sexuality. I see this campaign as a turning point in the fight to recognise gay rights as human rights. The history of the struggle for gay liberation has used a separate-but-equal notion; this has been most effective. However, now, through that entire struggle, we have reached a point where we can achieve pure equality. I see this campaign as large as this: it is not just about institutions but the wider effects on society.”
The campaign is far from over, but the clock is ticking on the British Government to do the right thing. Most major political parties and, evidenced by a recent poll, a majority of the British public support the change in marriage legislation.
With tenacious and eloquent equality advocates such as Colette and Katie, there is hope for a timely end to the current gender-based segregation in UK marriage law.