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Same-sex marriage bid goes to court in Northern Ireland

Couple who became UK's first civil partnership at Belfast City Hall 10 years ago seek judicial review

By David Young

Published 24/06/2015

Grainne Close (right) and Shannon Sickles become the first gay couple in the UK to enter into a civil partnership during a ceremony at the City Hall in December 2005
Grainne Close (right) and Shannon Sickles become the first gay couple in the UK to enter into a civil partnership during a ceremony at the City Hall in December 2005
Henry Kane (left) and Christopher Flanagan show off their rings after becoming the second gay couple in the UK to enter into a civil partnership at Belfast City Hall in December 2005

The first two gay couples to enter into civil partnerships in the UK will this week mount a High Court challenge to Northern Ireland's same-sex marriage ban, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles will be joined by Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane to seek a judicial review of the ban. Both couples cemented their relationships in civil partnerships a decade ago in Belfast City Hall.

But while Northern Ireland was the first place in the UK to recognise civil partnerships, it is now the only part of the UK and Ireland that has not legalised same-sex marriage.

"We are unable to enter into a marriage solely because we live in Northern Ireland," Ms Close stated.

In a Facebook post, Ms Close wrote: "This year, December 19th, 2015 Shannon and I, along with Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane, will celebrate 10 years of our civil partnerships.

"Northern Ireland was the first place in the UK to recognise civil partnership legislation and is now the last place in the UK and Ireland to recognise equal marriage.

"On (Friday) June 26th, 10am in the High Court, the four of us are bringing a legal challenge for a judicial review of the legislative prohibition preventing us from entering into civil marriage."

"Our barrister, Laura McMahon, will argue that to bar equal marriage is a fundamental discrimination of our rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, which is without justification," the Co Antrim woman added.

The court will hear how the use of Petitions of Concern to bar equal marriage means that they have no choice but to go to court to secure the same rights as heterosexual couples.

In April, the Assembly rejected a Sinn Fein proposal calling for the introduction of gay marriage. It was the fourth time the issue was debated and lost by two votes.

But even if it had secured a majority, it would still have failed, as the DUP had tabled a petition of concern beforehand - meaning it needed a majority of both unionists and nationalists to pass.

Ms Close said the current legislative position meant that her human rights were being denied.

"This is not about Shannon and I wanting the right to walk up the aisle in St Mary's Church, Ahoghill (that notion left me along time ago!).

"We are being denied a basic human right.

"You will hear the arguments from DUP and other religious groups (all the same that have been played out in the Irish referendum) that we have civil partnership, so why marriage?

"The fact that we have to stand in a different queue from opposite sex peers when it comes to having our relationship recognised by the State is itself indicative that we are treated differently."

John O'Doherty, director of gay support organisation the Rainbow Project, said: "Anything that tests the legal basis of Northern Ireland's ban on civil marriage is a positive step.

"I will be at the court on Friday to show our support."

Mr O'Doherty's organisation is mounting its own legal challenge.

It is being brought by two residents of Northern Ireland lawfully married in England but whose marriage is only recognised as a civil partnership in Northern Ireland.

The couple will ask the court to declare that their marriage remains lawfully constituted in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association chairman Terry McFarlane said that he would prefer change to come in a less confrontational way, rather than it having to be forced through by courts.

Campaigners want supporters to be at the High Court at 10am on Friday.

Belfast Telegraph

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