Gay couple start same-sex marriage Belfast court battle
The opening salvo in what could be a lengthy legal battle for same-sex couples to marry in Northern Ireland takes place today.
A legal challenge known as 'X's Petition' will ask the courts to rule that the marriage of 'X' and his husband in England last year should be fully recognised here as a marriage rather than a civil partnership.
The couple - who will remain anonymous throughout the case - are now seeking a declaration from the Family Court in Belfast that they remain lawfully married in Northern Ireland.
However, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 states that they should only be recognised as civil partners in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK or Ireland that has not passed legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry.
The petition - against the Northern Ireland Assembly and the UK Government - is listed for a two-day hearing. However, despite what the court rules, there is likely to be an appeal by the petitioner or the Government after the judgment.
Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin QC will be appearing for the Assembly while the petitioning couple will be represented by barrister Karen Quinlivan and solicitor Ciaran Moynagh from McLernon Moynagh.
'X' and his husband are from Northern Ireland and were lawfully married in England in 2014. Neither can be named because of a court ruling.
While this will be the first legal case of its kind in the UK for the right of same-sex marriages to be recognised in Northern Ireland, another challenge involving the first couples to enter civil partnerships will be heard in the High Court on December 3-4.
Last week, the Assembly voted in favour of allowing same-sex marriage for the first time, but a DUP petition of concern vetoed any change.
X's legal challenge is being supported by gay rights group The Rainbow Project and funded by Public Interest Litigation Support (PILS).
Last night John O'Doherty of The Rainbow Project welcomed the legal challenge.
"X and his husband are married. It is really that simple. They were lawfully married and their marriage remains lawful in Northern Ireland," he said.
"It is without precedent that a married person stops being married when they travel to different parts of the UK and it is hugely insulting to X and his husband that their marriage could be reclassified without their consent and called a civil partnership when it is not."