Ekklesia have an interesting story in relation to the ongoing campaign for marriage equality.

A lesbian couple have been refused the right to hold a civil marriage at Petersfield Register Office in Hampshire. But unlike other couples who have attempted to challenge the ban on same-sex marriage, they say that they were treated offensively and dismissively by register office staff.

Collette French and Katie Green made their application today (30 November) as part of the Equal Love campaign, which is calling for both same-sex and mixed-sex couples to have the right to choose between a marriage and a civil partnership.

The campaign involves four same-sex couples applying for marriage and four mixed-sex couples requesting a civil partnership. After all eight couples have been refused, they will launch a legal challenge.

French and Green are the fifth of the eight couples to make their attempt. But whereas other couples have thanked register office staff for their helpfulness and understanding, the staff at Petersfield were described as “officious, unhelpful, obstructive and dismissive”.

UK law currently recognises marriages only between members of different sexes. Since 2005, same-sex couples have been given the right to a civil partnership. This confers almost exactly the same rights but in different language. Campaigners argue that this is discriminatory.

Collette French said, “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.”

The couple say that they were taken aback by this refusal, because the previous four couples had all been treated politely and given a refusal in writing.

“We expected to be refused but we were not expecting to be treated so unkindly,” said Katie Green, “I felt humiliated and not respected”.

She explained, “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.”

Now, I don’t want anybody to be insulted and humiliated, but really this is all a bit silly. This visit was part of a campaign where every week another couple goes into a registry office and asks for something that the law says they can’t have. The couple already know that the answer is “no” and the aim of the visit is to cause some publicity around that “no” in order that the law might be changed.

So it strikes me as quite bizarre that such a couple were “humiliated” by a Registrar who, fed-up with the blatant way his office and his employees are being used yet for another publicity stunt, tells the couple where to go. I can imagine the conversation.

Katie Green : We would like to register for a civil marriage
Registrar : I’m afraid you can’t register for a civil marriage as you are both the same sex. We can offer you a civil partnership. When should we fix the date?
KG : No, we want a civil marriage. Please confirm to us in writing the reasons why.
R : Not on your nelly. You came into this office already knowing the answer to your question. You have used my busy staff for your publicity stunt and taken time away from other crucial work. Your colleagues made your point for you weeks ago in other registry offices and I simply am not going to play your narcissistic game. By all means campaign for a change in the marriage laws, but don’t make my staff pawns in your publicity stunt.
KG : I am humiliated.

Or words to that effect. Seriously – if you set yourself up for a fall, don’t complain when that fall happens.

I’m not saying that registry office staff should be abusive to couples who come and ask for something that they already know they can’t have, just don’t claim to be humiliated when you yourselves were intent on using the registry office staff for your own publicity purposes.

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