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Court set to rule on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

Nick Duffy August 16, 2017

Gay rights campaigners take part in a march through Belfast on July 1, 2017 to protest against the ban on same-sex marriage.

A court is expected to issue a ruling tomorrow on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK which does not permit marriages between people of the same sex, and does not recognise same-sex marriages from other parts of the UK.

The issue, which has been stalled for some time in the region’s devolved Assembly, has been the subject of multiple legal challenges from couples hoping to secure the right to marry through the courts.

A ruling is expected on the issue tomorrow at Belfast’s High Court, in the culmination of two separate legal cases that have been under consideration by Mr. Justice O’Hara for nearly two years.

Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

The two cases, which will be ruled on concurrently, both concern same-sex couples seeking to have their marriage recognised.

One of the cases is a challenge to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s refusal to legislate for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Though a majority of the Assembly Members voted for equal marriage in 2015, the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party employed ‘petitions of concern’ to veto all legislation on the issue.

The Assembly is not currently functioning due to the collapse of power-sharing, further stalling progress.

The second case concerns same-sex marriages from England and Wales, which are ‘downgraded’ to civil partnerships in Northern Ireland.

The challenge has been brought by a couple who were married in England in 2014 but live in Northern Ireland.

There are three possible outcomes in the case.

A positive ruling in both cases could help usher in equal marriage to Northern Ireland, while a positive ruling in only the second case may allow for the recognition of marriages from elsewhere without permitting weddings directly in Northern Ireland.

A negative ruling in both cases would leave the decision to the Assembly.

Ciaran Moynagh, the solicitor of the couple in the second case, said: “This couple took their vows because they believe in the traditional values associated with marriage.

“They see it as the ultimate sign of commitment and best foundation for a family. That’s why having it downgraded to a civil partnership has been so distressing.”

UK Prime Minister Theresa May recently expressed her personal support for same-sex marriage, in a column for PinkNews.

Writing for PinkNews, Mrs May affirmed: “I want all British citizens to enjoy the fullest freedoms and protections. That includes equal marriage – because marriage should be for everyone, regardless of their sexuality.

“And while that is a matter for the devolved government of Northern Ireland, I will continue to make my position clear – that LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland should have the same rights as people across the rest of the UK.”

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