Tuesday 6 December 2016

Gay marriage ban in NI faces landmark challenge from couples

Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 03/12/2015 | 10:25

Belfast High Court
Belfast High Court

A landmark legal challenge to Northern Ireland's ban on gay marriage is expected to open today.

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Two couples Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kanem, have been granted permission to judicially review the Stormont Assembly's repeated refusal to legislate for same sex marriage.

They were, respectively, the first and second couples in the UK to enter into a civil partnership after Northern Ireland became the first part of the UK to make that option available in December 2005.

The prominent case will be heard before Mr Justice Treacy at Belfast High Court.

Following the "Yes" vote in May's referendum on marriage equality in the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland where civil marriage is denied to gay couples.

The issue was debated for the fifth time last month.

Although the majority of MLAs voted in favour of introducing gay marriage, the proposal fell because unionists who oppose the move deployed a controversial voting mechanism to effectively veto it.

Earlier this year about 20,000 campaigners staged a march through Belfast city centre demanding a change in the law.

Amnesty International has described the case as "hugely significant".

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty's Northern Ireland programme director, said: "Success in this case could have positive implications for thousands of other couples in Northern Ireland.

"Following the repeated failure of the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate for marriage equality, couples have been forced into the courtroom to demand equal treatment before the law.

"It is unacceptable that they have been obliged to sue the Government in order to have what the rest of society takes for granted - for the State to recognise their right to get married.

"With politicians having abdicated their responsibility to deliver equal treatment for same-sex couples, it is now over to the courts."

Meanwhile, in a separate case, also being heard in Belfast High Court, two men who wed in England are seeking to have their marriage recognised in Northern Ireland.

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