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Gay couple's marriage devalued in Northern Ireland, court is told

By Alan Erwin

Published 10/11/2015

Challenge: Karen Quinlivan
Challenge: Karen Quinlivan

A gay couple's marriage has been "demeaned, devalued and undermined" by having no legal recognition in Northern Ireland, the High Court heard.

Lawyers for the two men claimed that being limited to civil partnership status within the region amounted to unlawful discrimination.

The couple, from Northern Ireland, are seeking a landmark declaration that their marriage remains fully constituted throughout the UK.

Granted anonymity in the case, the petitioner 'X' and his husband were married in London last year. But under current laws they can only be recognised as civil partners within their native country.

Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic, Northern Ireland has not passed legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Even though Stormont voted in favour of a change for the first time last week, the DUP blocked it through a petition of concern.

The petition, backed by gay rights group The Rainbow Project, has been taken against the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Government.

Opening the first case of its kind to come before the High Court in Belfast, Karen Quinlivan QC argued that the legal situation was "perplexing and distressing".

She told Mr Justice O'Hara: "The petitioner and his spouse find themselves in a particularly arbitrary situation where lawful marriage is stripped from them whenever they reside in Northern Ireland, returning and disappearing as they cross state lines."

The ban breaches rights to privacy and family life, religious freedom and entitlement to marry under the European Convention on Human Rights, it was claimed.

X and his husband were able to wed in England following the introduction of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013.

The couple, described as sharing the same broad Christian faith, want full recognition as spouses rather than civil partners.

In an affidavit submitted as part of their case, X set out their future plans to adopt children.

They believe marriage offers the most appropriate relationship and best foundation for a family, the court heard. According to their account most people struggle to understand why they are not married in Northern Ireland.

"It has caused them to feel acute embarrassment and alienation," Ms Quinlivan said.

She insisted that the couple should not have to feel like their marriage is in any way lessened.

"He takes the view that his marriage has been demeaned, devalued and undermined by virtue of the (society) in which he lives," the barrister added.

The case continues.

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