A same-sex couple in Scotland were heartbroken to discover they remain banned from marrying.
Inverness-born John Vernon had planned to marry his partner Sean Vernon in his hometown, after the pair entered into a civil partnership in Belfast, Northern Ireland a number of years ago.
The pair had been due to convert to a marriage in a ceremony in the Highlands, after Scotland introduced same-sex marriage and civil partnership conversion last month.
They had received confirmation from the Inverness registrar’s office that the wedding could go ahead – but were shocked to this week be told that the ceremony would actually be illegal, due to a quirk of the marriage law.
Under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in England and Wales, and the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act in Scotland, couples in civil partnerships must convert to a marriage in the country in which it was first registered.
This means that those who entered a civil partnership in England or Wales must convert it in England or Wales, and so on – but the law hinders couples who entered a civil partnership in Northern Ireland.
As the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has consistently blocked attempts to introduce same-sex marriage legislation in Northern Ireland, couples like John and Sean Vernon – who registered their partnership in Belfast – are unable to convert, even in other parts of the UK.
This means that the only way for them to marry would be to dissolve their original civil partnership entirely – which can take many months – and then enter a marriage in Scotland, England or Wales.
John Vernon told the Inverness Courier: “To get married we would effectively have to get divorced first, that is ridiculous.
“We want to have the same rights as everyone else and we believe we should, that is the fundamental reason for the whole thing.
“We are upset about how this has happened and have had to cancel everything.
“I had a long discussion with the registrar in December and they assured me it was fine.
“I was never directed to any website telling me the civil partnership could only be converted if it was registered in Scotland.
“When I called I was clear that ours was registered in Belfast and we had a long chat about this issue.
“It comes down to either negligence or incompetence from one of the registrars.”
A Highland Council spokesperson said: “The guidance clearly states ‘couples in a civil partnership registered in Scotland will be able to change their civil partnership to a marriage in Scotland’.
“We are aware of the complaint and have investigated the matter, however the guidance is clear and registrars are bound by Scottish legislation on the matter.”
The Scottish government is already planning to bring forward legislation that would allow couples in foreign civil partnerships to convert – but this will likely take several months.