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First same-sex couple to marry in Northern Ireland ‘humbled and grateful’ to be making history

Amanda Ferguson February 6, 2020
Same-sex marriage

Robyn Peoples (L) and Sharni Edwards, Northern Ireland's first same-sex couple to be legally married. (Charles McQuillan/Getty)

A lesbian couple from north Belfast say they are humbled and grateful to be making history next week as two of the first people to have same-sex wedding in Northern Ireland.

Waitress Sharni Edwards, 27, and senior care assistant Robyn Peoples, 26, are getting married at a hotel in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, on Tuesday, February 11, which is their sixth anniversary.

Their role as history makers is a happy accident rather than by design.

‘It is so surreal for me. I still have to pinch myself.’

The couple had been planning a civil partnership on this date, but after the law on same-sex marriage changed in Northern Ireland, following an intervention from Westminster in the absence of devolved government, there was no doubt that civil marriage was the path they would go down.

They told PinkNews when they went to the registrar’s office in Carrickfergus to register for their big day they were told they were the first couple to sign up for a civil marriage.

“It’s crazy,” Sharni said.

Robyn Peoples (L) and Sharni Edwards, Northern Ireland's first same-sex couple to be legally married, kiss as they pose in front of the Lyra McKee mural. (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Robyn Peoples (L) and Sharni Edwards, Northern Ireland’s first same-sex couple to be legally married, kiss as they pose in front of the Lyra McKee mural. (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

“It is so surreal for me. I still have to pinch myself. I just feel humbled and grateful. The younger generation need people to look up to, to see it’s OK for a woman to love a woman.”

Robyn said: “It wasn’t intentional but we are so grateful for it. It helps other people to see we are just like any other normal couple, except we are both girls. There is nothing different about us from the next couple you see in the street.”

It was an instant connection for first same-sex married Northern Ireland couple.

The young women first met back in 2014 when Sharni, originally from Brighton, was visiting her cousin in Belfast for a week.

Robyn had been to a Girls Aloud concert, then headed to the Kremlin nightclub in Belfast city centre and met Sharni through her cousin.

“We haven’t been separated since,” Sharni said.

“We just clicked.”

Showing PinkNews their jigsaw pieces tattoos, Robyn said: “She is literally like the other half of me.”

They tried a long-distance relationship for a while, then eight months later, Robyn moved to Brighton.

“You know when you know,” Robyn said.

(Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

In the end Robyn was homesick for north Belfast so the couple decided to relocate to the Woodvale area, a traditionally unionist area of the city, where she was born and raised.

The romantic couple became engaged in 2015 on a trip to Paris to see Ariana Grande in concert.

Robyn had got a lock engraved with their names on it.

When they went to the Pont des Arts to add their “love lock” to the collection on the bridge, Robyn got down on one knee to propose.

The following year Sharni “proposed back” in their house on Robyn’s birthday.

“I laid out loads of rose petals that spelled out, ‘Will you marry me?’,” Sharni said.

“It sounds so cheesy now we are saying it out loud!”

It was ‘insane’ that equal marriage didn’t apply to Northern Ireland. 

Over the last number of years, the brides-to-be have been supportive of the Love Equality campaign in Northern Ireland, which is made up of various LGBT+ and human rights organisations, all battling to ensure LGBT+ couples had the same rights as their counterparts in Britain and the rest of Ireland.

They attended the various Belfast Pride and March for Equality events, parades and demonstrations that have taken place in the battle for marriage equality for British and Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, in line with the rest of the UK and Ireland.

“We are so thankful for the Love Equality campaigners for fighting for us,” Sharni said.

(Supplied)

“If it wasn’t for their hard work and effort, we wouldn’t be in this position now.

“We would still be having a civil partnership next week.

Robyn added: “We did not know how much effort they were putting in.”

Sharni said she was stunned when she first found out that the marriage law applying to Britain did not apply to Northern Ireland.

“I thought it was insane, absolutely crazy to be so behind the times and the rest of the UK,” she said.

“I couldn’t comprehend why people in Northern Ireland were not equal.”

Prior to Stormont being reformed last month, after an impasse which lasted three years, there as widespread public support for law change.

Five motions had been brought forward to the Assembly on same-sex marriage equality, however, the last vote in favour of extending civil marriage rights to the LGBT+ community was vetoed by the DUP using the petition of concern blocking mechanism.

Robyn Peoples (L) and Sharni Edwards, during a pre-wedding press conference. (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

In the absence of devolved government legislation was passed at Westminster last year, allowing couples to register to get married from next week.

Robyn says while she has not experienced much homophobia personally, she has many friends who have and that she was annoyed by the stance the DUP took on same-sex marriage.

“You look to politicians as someone to pave the way for you and not to block it and that is exactly what they were doing,” she said.

“It didn’t make sense.”

The couple are thankful for all the support from friends and activists they received. 

The couple appreciate that not everyone has as much support as they do but urges young LGBT+ people to realise they are not alone and be themselves.

The couple note the extensive support services offered at the LGBT centre in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.

Robyn said: “It is absolutely accepted. Even if there are issues in your family or your friendship groups there is always someone willing to support you. Look at the centre itself. Someone will always have your back. You are not any different than anyone in this world.”

Sharni said: “We are literally a community and that’s what I love about us.”

Sharni and Robyn have been taking about marriage, kids and the future since the beginning of their relationship and cannot wait for their big day.

They will stay together the night before, then separate the morning of the wedding to get ready, and have decided to keep their dresses as a surprise for each other.

“We want to say a massive thank you for everyone who has made all this possible,” Robyn said.

“We are so grateful,” Sharni said.

(Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
(Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Straight after the wedding they will be off on honeymoon to Cyprus and planning a family together.

Meanwhile, the fight for rights for the LGBT+ community continues in Northern Ireland.

Currently people who are in a civil partnership in Northern Ireland are not able to convert that into a marriage.

The British government’s Northern Ireland Office is currently carrying out a public consultation on that and campaigners are hopeful the option for conversion will be available in the summer.

Another outstanding issue is religious freedom for faith groups wishing to carry out same sex weddings.

John O’Doherty from The Rainbow Project in Belfast said: “We want to see freedom of religion, which means for those faith groups who want to carry out same sex marriages should have the right to do so through an opt in process, as well as ensuring the rights of those who don’t want to engage in same sex marriages from a faith perspective the right to do so as well.”

John O’Doherty wishes Sharni and Robyn well.

He says: “It is truly wonderful to know this change is happening and to see the faces of couples and what it means to them.

For decades young LGBT people in Northern Ireland have grown up with the message that they are not equal, that they are not good enough, that they are not the same as their heterosexual brothers and sisters.

“This change is another marker that they are equal, that the law recognises them as equal and hopefully that allows them to see themselves as equal.

“When equal marriage is legislated for, mental health issues reduce substantially and that is what we need to see in Northern Ireland.”

More: Love Equality, marriage equality, Northern Ireland, same sex marriage

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