Australian-born British rights activist Peter Tatchell has slammed the British Government for announcing a transition to marriage equality which he said could take as long as 2017.

On February 17 UK Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone announced that the UK’s Equalities Act would be amended to allow civil partnership ceremonies to be held in places of worship, and that a consultation process on extending civil partnerships to heterosexuals and civil marriage to same-sex couples would be undertaken.

“Over the past few months I’ve spoken to a lot of LGB and T people and campaign groups, and it quickly became clear that there is a real desire to address the differences between civil marriage and civil partnerships,” Featherstone said.

“We are going to be the first British government to formally look at what steps can be taken to address this.”

Featherstone has been reported as stating that this consultation process would be complete within the life of the current Parliament. The next UK general election must be held by June 11 2015.

The Star Observer spoke to Tatchell, who leads the UK’s Equal Love campaign, before his keynote address at the Seymour Centre on Saturday. He said a consultation process this late in the day was unnecessary.

“There’s no excuse for further consultation. Already nearly two-thirds of the British people support same-sex civil marriage,” he said.

“The government has had plenty of time to consult already. This further consultation will just drag out and delay the securing of justice for LGBT couples … the earliest marriage equality could come under the Lynne Featherstone proposals is 2015 to 2017. That kind of delay is wholly unjustified.”

Tatchell said the Government was reacting to an Equal Love-sponsored case before the European Court of Human Rights, which had the potential to not just compel Britain to allow same-sex marriage, but every Council of Europe nation which had civil partnerships with virtually identical rights to marriage.

“Quite clearly they’re nervous,” Tatchell said. “Within a year the British Government has to state its arguments for maintaining the twin bans on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships.

“All the experts agree that it’s going to be very difficult for the British Government to make a credible case.”

Tatchell said the consultation process would not stop the court challenge and that Equal Love would push to have a non-binding Early Day Motion on same-sex marriage voted on in the House of Commons, followed by a private member’s bill if the level of support was there.

If he had a message for Australia it was to “keep up the fight for marriage equality”.

“You will win,” Tatchell said. “Equality for lesbian and gay couples has been long delayed but it cannot be denied.”

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