14 March 2018

70 years ago the world came together to set down the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the rights we should all enjoy simply because we are human. This year we'll be celebrating universal human rights, and bringing them home in the Human Rights Act which also marks its 20th anniversary. Join us in the celebrations and sign our digital birthday card for universal human rights here. Read on to learn more about what these rights mean in our everyday lives...

The right to marry was set down in Article 16 of the UDHR, and is now protected in UK law through Article 12 of the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act protects our right to marry - if we are of marriageable age - and the right to start a family.

Other UK laws set out at what age we can marry, issues of capacity and consent, that it is an offence to marry when already married (bigamy) or to marry close relatives (incest), and so on. These laws, however, must not be arbitrary and must not interfere with the right, as protected by the Human Rights Act.

Although this right protects your right to found a family, it does not meant that you necessarily have the right to access reproductive technologies or adoption. 

In real life: Respecting the right of a man in a mental health hospital to marry 

Ishmael and his partner Eve had decided that they would like to get married. However, Ishmael was a long-term patient at a mental health hospital, and his consultant was not sure whether the marriage should be allowed as Ishmael’s mental health issues may have impacted his decision-making.

Having received support on using human rights from BIHR, staff at the hospital did not jump to conclusions about what was best for Ishmael based on his mental health issues. The consultant and care team decided to approach the issue by reflecting on how his human rights might be affected by their decision. They recognised that not allowing to Ishmael to get married might have a negative impact his right to marry and found a family (as well as his right to respect for private and family life), and that under the Human Rights Act staff have a duty to respect and protect Ishmael’s human rights. Making sure they were considering Ishmael’s human rights, staff felt better equipped to move away from a model of decision-making that focused solely on risk and harm avoidance, towards a model that included potential for the people in their care to lead full and flourishing lives.

Staff decided to take every step that they could in supporting Ishmael and Eve to marry.  (This is a real life example from BIHR's work)

In real life: Recognising the right of trans people to marry 

Christine, a trans woman, was unable to marry because of the UK's laws on gender recognition (or lack of). At the time, there was no provision for trans people to have their legal gender changed or recognised in UK law. Christine thought this was a violation of her right to marry (as well as her right to family life and to be free from discrimination), so she took a human rights case to court. 

The court agreed, and ruled that Christine's right to marry and found a family, and her right to family life, had been unjustifiably infringed. This led to a change in UK law. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 now allows trans people to obtain legal recognition of their gender, and once they have done that, to get marry.

(This is a legal case, Goodwin v UK, 2002, which went to the European Court of Human Rights)

Take action, join in!  

Show your support and sign our digital 70th birthday card for universal human rights here - it's a quick and simple way to have your voice heard and join others across the UK.

Remember we're running a digital campaign between 14 - 23 March; follow the discussion on social media using #MarchforHumanRights and #celebrating70. We'd love for you to join the conversation, especially our #rightschat taking place on Twitter on Friday 16 March between 12-1.30pm.

Check out our 70 years of universal human rights hub for more ways to join in.