This Is Local LondonLaw change recognises pair's union (From This Is Local London)

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Law change recognises pair's union

This Is Local London: Celia Kitzinger (left) and Sue Wilkinson (right) who lost a legal fight to marry eight years ago will become the first same-sex couple in the UK to have their union legally recognised. Celia Kitzinger (left) and Sue Wilkinson (right) who lost a legal fight to marry eight years ago will become the first same-sex couple in the UK to have their union legally recognised.

A same-sex couple who lost a legal fight to marry eight years ago have become the first in the UK to have their union legally recognised.

Sue Wilkinson, 60, and Celia Kitzinger, 57, married in Canada in 2003 and fought to have their union recognised here.

They took their fight to the High Court in 2006, when a judge r efused to make a declaration that their marriage was valid in this country, adding they faced ''an insurmountable hurdle'' in having their m arriage recognised under English law .

But, due to a change in the law last year, their marriage became legally binding at one minute past midnight - when couples who married overseas were automatically recognised.

Ms Kitzinger, sociology professor at the University of York, said last night they would celebrate at their home in Gribthorpe, near Selby in the East Riding of Yorkshire, with a bottle of bubbly.

"At 12.01 when our marriage is finally recognised in our home country I think we'll be opening a bottle of champagne, toasting ourselves, toasting equality and toasting the future of lesbian and gay equality for all countries of the world," she said.

She added: "I came out as lesbian in 1973 and things were a lot different then and it never occurred to me that one day the law would be changed such that my marriage to the woman that I love would be recognised.

"We're the 15th country in the world so it's been a bit slow and behind countries you would be quite surprised about."

The couple wed in Vancouver in 2003, where same sex marriages were legal and embarked on a lengthy and expensive legal battle to have their union recognised in England.

Ms Kitzinger said: "We were surprised by what being married meant to us. For the first time in my life I felt like an equal citizen of a country that wasn't my own and I was very unwilling to have anything less than that when I returned to England."

But in July 2007, Ms Wilkinson said they were left "deeply disappointed" by the judgement, adding that they had been ''stripped of our marriage'' by a judge who preferred to uphold the ''traditional notion'' of marriage .

Speaking on the court steps at the time, she added: " It perpetuates discrimination and it sends out the message that lesbian and gay marriages are inferior.''

Civil partnership became legal in the United Kingdom in 2004, which allowed same-sex couples to live in legally recognised partnerships similar to marriage, but without allowing them to marry.

In July, the Same Sex Couples Act was passed in Parliament, which permits ma rriage ceremonies to take place from March 29. But a quirk of the law means those who wed abroad will have their marriages recognised from March 13.

Speaking of their impending marriage, Ms Wilkinson, professor of social sciences at Loughborough University, said: "I think for me it is disbelief more than anything else.

"Its kind of suddenly crept up on us from nowhere, only eight years after we lost a court case to declare our marriage legal in this country.

"But now it will be legal in this country and that's pretty stunning."

She added: " It was almost you could say an historical accident that we got married, I just happened to be based in Canada when the law changed there.

"So if we hadn't been there then I don't think we would have got married and probably would have ended up with a civil partnership in England.

"But having had marriage and experienced what that felt like made us determined it had to be marriage and nothing but marriage."

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