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Campaigners hail move to allow same-sex church weddings in NI

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Robyn and Sharni Edwards-Peoples celebrate on their wedding day

Robyn and Sharni Edwards-Peoples celebrate on their wedding day

Robyn and Sharni Edwards-Peoples celebrate on their wedding day

Gay rights activists have welcomed news that the Government will lay regulations next week that will permit same-sex religious marriages in Northern Ireland to take place from September.

The announcement came hours after the first same-sex couple to marry here criticised Secretary of State Brandon Lewis for a delay in introducing regulations to allow religious wedding ceremonies.

Robyn and Sharni Edwards-Peoples spoke out on what was the one-year anniversary of a landmark House of Commons vote by MPs in legislating for same-sex marriage locally.

While same-sex civil marriage became legal in January, the necessary regulations permitting religious ceremonies to be part of the wedding have not yet been set out.

But late on Wednesday a spokesman for the UK Government said: "We intend to lay regulations next week to allow for same-sex religious marriage in Northern Ireland to come into effect from September 1, 2020.

"Conversion entitlements regulations will follow as soon as possible before the end of the year."

Cara McCann, director of Here NI, an organisation representing lesbian and bisexual women and part of the Love Equality campaign for marriage equality said: "We warmly welcome this announcement by the Secretary of State and would urge him to now finish the job of marriage equality in Northern Ireland by allowing couples in civil partnerships to convert to married status if they wish without further delay.

"This affects around 1,200 couples in Northern Ireland, including me and my partner Amanda, who entered a civil partnership in the absence of same-sex marriage and who are currently unable to marry."

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International said: "This is brilliant news for all the same-sex couples of faith who have been waiting for this overdue change in the law and who can now plan their wedding in a church or other religious setting.

"This is an important issue for many Northern Ireland couples, who currently have to suffer an interference with their freedom of religion by not being allowed to marry in their own church."

Indoor weddings resume today following a relaxation of coronavirus regulations, leaving Northern Ireland the only part of the UK or Ireland where same-sex couples cannot have religious weddings, or the ability to convert civil partnerships to marriage.

Robyn and Sharni, who tied the knot at a civil marriage in Carrickfergus earlier this year, had called on Mr Lewis to take urgent action.

"We loved having our big day back in February surrounded by the people we love," explained Sharni.

"It was a dream day for us and we want everyone to have the same chance to enjoy that feeling. But by not laying the necessary regulations at Parliament, the Secretary of State is stopping many couples from being able to plan their own big day."

Under the legislation, same-sex couples would be able to get married in a religious ceremony where the church offers such weddings.

A number of faith groups here expressed discomfort at the time the legislation was passed and therefore no church will be compelled to offer same-sex weddings.

According to the 2019 Act, same-sex couples with an existing civil partnership will be able to convert this to a marriage through a simple administrative process.

Belfast Telegraph