A gay couple in Northern Ireland are set to legally challenge the current ban on same sex marriage in the region, on the grounds that it discriminates against their religious beliefs. The High Court action comes after a similar case by two gay couples which challenged the ban on human rights grounds.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, despite being together for some time the two chose not to have a civil partnership ceremony, which is legal in Northern Ireland, as it holds no religious significance.
Instead, the couple, who live and work in Northern Ireland, travelled to London last September for a religious marriage service after same sex marriage was legalised in England and Wales. However, their partnership is only recognised as a civil marriage under Northern Ireland law. They now want to see the status of their union upgraded to marriage, saying that the legislation as it currently stands infringes on their religious rights.
Their solicitor Ciaran Moynagh said:
“They are saying the downgrading of their marriage isn’t lawful and one of the aspects is that they are arguing that their religious liberty is being infringed.
“The petitioner says that he has a belief in God, within the liberal Christian tradition, and he chose to have a religious marriage. Northern Irish law does not recognise their marriage as a marriage, and that therefore denies them their right to manifest their beliefs.”
Although it is illegal to perform same sex marriages in the Church of England, the law does allow for religious same sex ceremonies provided the denomination in question has formally opted to perform them. Currently the Quakers and the Unitarian and Free Christian Churches have opted to do so – the latter offers three venues in London at which same sex partners can marry.
Mr Moynagh will also bring two other cases to the High Court on the same day, that of lesbian couple Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles, and gay couple Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane, both of whom were among the first to be joined in a civil union in Northern Ireland when the legislation to do so was introduced nearly ten years ago.
The couples are arguing that, as Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland not to recognise same sex marriage, their human rights are being infringed. They are therefore hoping that the judge will rule that the current laws are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The couples are being supported in their bid by Rainbow Project, an LGBT organisation. Director John O’Doherty said: “We are resolute that no one can be married in one part of the UK and then not married in another. This is unconscionable and cannot be permitted to continue.”
In April the Northern Ireland Assembly voted down a bid to introduce same sex marriage for the fourth time, with the motion failing by 47 votes to 49. DUP Assembly member Peter Weir commented “My party believes, and I believe also, that marriage is between one man and one woman and once you redefine that you lose the essence of marriage itself.”