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Changes to marriage age and status of non-religious ceremonies in Northern Ireland following consultation


Finance Minister Conor Murphy PA

Finance Minister Conor Murphy PA

Finance Minister Conor Murphy PA

Marriage laws in Northern Ireland look set to be changed, giving equal status to non-religious ceremonies and raising the age of marriages to 18-years-old.

The potential changes were announced by the Finance Minister Conor Murphy, who said he intended to bring legislation forward once an Assembly and Executive is operational at Stormont.

The move follows a consultation by his department which took considerations from a range of churches, civic organisations and wedding businesses.

There are currently temporary arrangements in place in Northern Ireland around the equal weighting of marriages following a High Court and Court of Appeal judgment in 2017.

That judgement demanded government here places belief marriage on the same legislative footing as religious marriage.

Mr Murphy said around 70% of those who responded to the consultation were supportive that the Assembly amend the marriage law to put belief marriage on an equal footing with religious marriage.

In his written statement the Sinn Fein politician revealed none of the three churches that responded to the consultation raised any objection.

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The announcement was welcomed by Alliance Party MLA Kellie Armstrong, who said it reflected Northern Ireland as a “changing society”.

"This move reflects that. Everybody does not fit into a specific definition, rather instead being part of the wealth of diversity across our community. It’s time everyone respected people of other beliefs in law,” she said.

He also said responded to the suggestion of increasing the current age people can legally marry from 16, with parental consent, to 18 – was close to unanimous.

“I would like to thank all the organisations and individuals who responded positively to my department’s consultation,” Mr Murphy said.

“A clear majority supported the proposal to put belief marriage on an equal footing with religious marriage.

“Support for increasing the minimum age for marriage and civil partnership to 18 years was close to unanimous, with 97% of online respondents in support of the change.

“Consultation responses therefore suggest strong support for including belief marriage in the marriage law on the same basis as religious marriage, and for increasing the minimum age for marriage/civil partnership to 18 years.

“My department will now begin work that will allow for the preparation of legislation to enable belief marriage and raise the minimum age for marriage to 18. It will only be possible to bring forward and enact this legislation once there is a functioning Assembly and Executive.”

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