European Court rules Equal Love case inadmissible

2011 application for UK marriage & partnership equality is formally closed

European Court refused to rule on ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships

Focus shifts to N Ireland gay marriage ban & new legal bid by straight couple

London, UK – 24 February 2015


The Equal Love campaign is today formally closing its 2011 application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which sought to secure full equality in UK civil marriage and civil partnership law.

This follows the decision of the European Court that the application was “inadmissible” and subsequent fruitless attempts by campaigners to challenge this ruling.

“This is the end of the road for our application. We can take it no further. Our sincere thanks to the eight couples involved and to all our supporters who stood with us for four years. The Equal Love campaign will now concentrate on opposing the ban on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland and supporting a new legal challenge to the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships, which is being pursued by a London heterosexual couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation. He coordinated the Equal Love campaign and the 2011 ECtHR application.

The Equal Love case was filed with the European Court of Human Rights on 2 February 2011 by four lesbian and gay couples and four heterosexual couples, who respectively sought to overturn the then twin bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships in Britain.

It was known as Ferguson & Others v United Kingdom – Application 8254/11. See here:

“While the applicants feared their case against the UK’s prohibition on same-sex marriage would be set aside in light of the legalisation of same-sex marriage in England and Wales in 2013, they did not expect their application to end discrimination against straight couples in civil partnership law to be dismissed summarily, without even being considered by the full court and without the courtesy of a proper explanation. The ruling was made by a single judge, Päivi Hirvelä of Finland. There is no right of appeal,” said Mr Tatchell.

“The letter stating that the application was inadmissible, signed by Clare Ovey of the ECtHR, claimed the application did not fulfil the admissibility criterion, Articles 34 and 35 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This is disputed by the applicants, who contend that their case met the requirements set out in both these articles:

“We asked for details of how the application failed to meet the admissibility requirements. The ECtHR declined to provide them. This is contrary to Article 45(1) of the ECHR, which states:

“Reasons shall be given for judgements as well as for decisions declaring applications admissible or inadmissible.”

Ms Ovey wrote to the Equal Love campaign:

“The decision is final. It is not subject to an appeal either to the Grand Chamber or to any other body. The registry is unable to provide you with any details of the Single Judge’s decision.”

Subsequent correspondence by the Equal Love campaign requesting reasons, in accordance with Article 45 (1), went unanswered by the Court.

“The ECtHR dismissal ignored the on-going ban on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland and homophobic discrimination in pension inheritance for the surviving partner of a same-sex marriage under the 2013 legislation in England and Wales,” added Mr Tatchell.

“Our attempts to query the ECtHR ruling have been rebuffed. We have gone as far as we can with this case.

“We expected a Chamber of seven judges to rule on this application, given the important equality issues it raised. They would have provided detailed reasons for their decision.

“Since 29 March 2014, same-sex couples in England and Wales can choose between two forms of relationship recognition, civil partnership and civil marriage; whereas opposite-sex couples have only one option, marriage. This anomaly, which amounts to discrimination in law, was ignored by the ECtHR when it decided to rule against considering the Equal Love case.

“The ECtHR also ignored its own case precedent, Vallianatos & Others v. Greece, 7 November 2013.

“The implication of the European Court’s judgement in the Vallianatos case is that in countries such as the UK where marriage is open to both gay and straight couples, it is not permissible to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation by excluding heterosexual couples from alternatives to marriage such as civil partnerships. The ECtHR appears to have not taken this judgement into consideration when dismissing the Equal Love case.

“The European Court’s ruling that the Equal Love application was not admissable will have no effect on the new case bought by Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld because it was not a full court judgment and therefore not a legal precedent.

“We are supporting the bid by Rebecca and Charles to overturn the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships, which they launched at the High Court in London on 23 December 2014. If they do not get redress from the UK courts they plan to take their case to the ECtHR,” said Mr Tatchell.

Here is a briefing about their bid: and here: