Same-sex couples in Northern Ireland could soon win the right to marry, if a High Court ruling brings marriage equality to the country.
Three couples have issued a challenge to Northern Ireland's current marriage law and a High Court ruling is expected in Belfast today (August 17).
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without marriage equality. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has blocked equal marriage legislation multiple times in the Northern Ireland assembly – most recently in November 2015, when a majority of the Assembly actually voted to legalise same-sex marriage, only for the DUP to effectively veto the measure under the terms of Stormont’s power-sharing agreement.
Two of the three couples challenging the law (Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close, Christopher and Henry Flanagan-Kane) were among the first to get civil partnerships when that law came into effect in 2004. They have brought forward a judicial review for the right to marry in their home country.
The third couple, who are remaining anonymous, got married in England three years ago but reside in Northern Ireland and want to have their union recognised there. As the law currently stands, same-sex marriages performed in other parts of the UK are reverted to civil partnerships in Northern Ireland.
The anonymous couple's solicitor said that the couple found the process of having their marriage viewed as a civil partnership in Northern Ireland 'distressing'. "This couple took their vows because they believe in the traditional values associated with marriage", said Ciaran Moynagh.
"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."
Both legal challenges have been going on for over two years, and will be heard together, but Sickles says the two are "distinct" from one another.
"Our case is distinct in that winning this is about bringing same-sex marriage to all couples in Northern Ireland," she told The Irish News
. "We're looking for same-sex couples to be able to get married in Northern Ireland, not for specifically for a marriage which happened in another jurisdiction to be recognised."
Ms Sickles went on to say that she and her partner "feel confident about getting a positive judgment on Thursday".
"It's unfortunate that it has come to the courts, but we're also ready to be in it for the long haul should an appeal be made."
The decision is expected this afternoon.
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