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Gay Christian couple in battle to overturn same-sex marriage ban

Exclusive by Laura Abernethy

Published 20/08/2015

Northern Ireland's refusal to allow same-sex marriage is facing another legal challenge - on the grounds that it infringes religious freedom
Northern Ireland's refusal to allow same-sex marriage is facing another legal challenge - on the grounds that it infringes religious freedom

Northern Ireland's refusal to allow same-sex marriage is facing another legal challenge - on the grounds that it infringes religious freedom.

It comes after a case taken by two same sex couples claiming a breach of human rights.

A gay couple are to challenge the ban in the High Court as they argue that it discriminates against their Christian beliefs.

The men were married in London last September but when they returned to Northern Ireland, where they live and work, their marriage was only recognised as a civil partnership.

The couple, who cannot be named, are now trying to get their marriage recognised in their home region as they say that the current legislation infringes on their religious rights.

Despite being together for some time, they chose not to have a civil partnership ceremony because it has no religious significance, and went to London for their wedding in September after same-sex marriage was introduced in England.

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."

The case will be heard on the same day as a separate judicial review brought by Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane - the first couples in Northern Ireland to enter into civil partnerships when they were introduced almost 10 years ago.

The two couples will argue that as Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK and Ireland that does not allow same-sex marriage, it is an infringement of their human rights.

Ms Close had previously said that for her and her partner, "this is not a religious issue, it is a human rights issue".

Mr Moynagh said his clients are not trying to change the law in the same way, but want their marriage to be recognised.

He said: "My clients are not activists, not in any way, they are not trying to directly change legislation. Their aim is simply to have their marriage recognised as what it is. They did not want to do this, court is a last resort.

"If they are unsuccessful with their petition to have their marriage declared valid, then one potential remedy to this in the High Court is try and get a declaration of incompatibility."

A declaration of incompatibility would mean the judge would rule that the current laws are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The couple are mounting the case supported by the LGBT organisation Rainbow Project.

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."

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