Monday 19 February 2018

Judge says North's politicians must decide on gay marriage ban

Civil partners Shannon Sickles, left, and Gráinne Close arriving at the High Court in Belfast yesterday. Photo: PA
Civil partners Shannon Sickles, left, and Gráinne Close arriving at the High Court in Belfast yesterday. Photo: PA

David Young

A judge who dismissed two landmark challenges against Northern Ireland's same-sex marriage ban has made clear that it is for politicians, not the courts, to change the law.

Mr Justice O'Hara rejected both cases on the grounds that while European law allows for governments to introduce gay marriage, it does not compel them to do so.

He said the rights of the three couples who took the two separate cases had therefore not been violated.

The judge said he understood why gay men and lesbians felt frustrated about the prohibition, especially given the fact a majority of Stormont Assembly members supported a law change at the last vote.

But he insisted that his job was to interpret the law as it stood, not decide social policy.

The judgments came amid a long-running political dispute on the ban. The gay marriage issue is one of the sticking points preventing the restoration of powersharing, with Sinn Féin demanding that the DUP stops standing in the way of a change.

The DUP insists that it is protecting the "traditional" definition of marriage.

The judge heard the two cases together, due to the similarities of the legal arguments.

The first challenge - known as Petition X, due to an anonymity order - involved two men who married in London in 2014 attempting to get their union recognised in Northern Ireland.

Their marriage was changed to a civil partnership in law when they moved to the North.

In the second case, two couples in civil partnerships - Gráinne Close and Shannon Sickles and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane - argued the same-sex marriage prohibition breached their human rights.

Outside court, Ms Close said she was "devastated", adding: "We have families and our children are being treated differently because of today's result."

Ms Sickles vowed to appeal.

Irish Independent

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