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Sue Wilkinson, left, and Celia Kitzinger, right, say they can't afford to appeal Monday's ruling. ((Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press))

Two British women who exchanged wedding vows in Vancouver failed Monday in their legal bid to have Britain recognize their same-sex marriage.

Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, both university professors, were married three years ago.

In June, they argued before Britain's High Court that the country's failure to recognize their marriage violated their human rights.

In his decision, Sir Mark Potter, president of the High Court's Family Division, ruled that Kitzinger and Wilkinson's union could be recognized a civil partnership, but not as a marriage.

Potter said that marriage, by "long-standing definition and acceptance," meant a relationship between a man and a woman for the primary reason of raising children.

"To accord a same-sex relationship the title and status of marriage would be to fly in the face of the [European] Convention [on Human Rights] as well as to fail to recognize physical reality," Potter said.

He added that lasting single-sex relationships were "in no way inferior" to relationships between a man and women.

Wilkinson, 49, said she and Kitzinger, 52were disappointed in the decision.

"A heterosexual couple who made those vows in Canada would have their marriage honoured and respected here," Wilkinson said following the judgment.

"Today's judgment supports the government's position that lesbians and gay men should be treated differently."

The couple are seeking financial help to launch an appeal after they said they exhausted their savings on the challenge. The court ordered them to pay the government's costs in the case, which amounted to about $53,000.

"We are hopeful we will be able to appeal but need help to fund the cost, which will likely be the same amount again," Kitzinger said.

"Though we're disappointed, we are sure there will be a day— within our lifetimes— when there will be equality for same-sex marriage. This judgment will not stand the test of time."

In 2005, the United Kingdom began allowing civil partnerships. The legislation does not use the word "marriage," but does give same-sex couples the same tax and pension rights asmarried couples.

The law requires couples wishing to form a partnership to register with their local municipal councils. Only gay and lesbian couples are allowed to register for the partnership option.

Gay marriages are legal in Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain. In the United States, Massachusetts alone allows gay marriage, while Vermont and Connecticut permit same-sex civil unions.

With files from the Associated Press