Belfast Telegraph

Judge dismisses Northern Ireland same-sex marriage ban challenges

Two legal challenges were dismissed by the High Court Judge, who said it was for the Stormont Assembly to decide social policy

Two landmark court challenges against the ban on same sex marriage in Northern Ireland have been dismissed.

Mr Justice O'Hara ruled on the two separate cases that were heard together due to the similarities of the arguments.

Both cases were rejected by the Judge, insisting the ban did not violate the rights of LGBT couples in the region.

The Judge also ruled it is lawful to continue to downgrade same-sex marriages to civil partnerships when couples move to Northern Ireland.

In the first case, two couples in civil partnerships - Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane - argued the region's prohibition on same sex marriage breached their human rights.

Both couples were, respectively, the first and second in the UK to enter into a civil partnership after Northern Ireland became the first part of the UK to make that option available in December 2005.

They took a case against Stormont's Department of Finance and Personnel, which regulates the region's marriage laws, on grounds that the ban contravenes entitlements to marriage and a family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Being limited to civil partnership status within Northern Ireland amounts to unlawful discrimination, according to their case which was backed by gay rights group The Rainbow Project.

Stormont's Attorney General John Larkin also argued against the legal challenge.

In the second case - known as Petition X due an anonymity order - two men who married in England in 2014 were attempting to get their union recognised in Northern Ireland. Their marriage was changed to a civil partnership in law when they moved to Northern Ireland.

The two men claimed they were subjected to discrimination by having their relationship "downgraded".

Mr Justice O'Hara  also dismissed the petition, insisting the couple's rights had "not been violated" under European law.

It is not at all difficult to understand how gay men and lesbians who have suffered discrimination, rejection and exclusion feel so strongly about the maintenance in Northern Ireland of the barrier to same sex marriage. However, the judgment which I have to reach is not based on social policy but on the law. Mr Justice O'Hara

The couple's solicitor Ciaran Moynagh said:  “Of course, we are disappointed by today’s ruling.

“What it shows is that more work needs to be done to explain a truth that, to us, is self-evident; the love two men or two women share is never a threat to society – in fact the world could do with a little more love today.

“Today we are calling on the mums, dads, siblings and friends of LGBT+ people to no longer remain on the side lines. Speak, write or tweet to our political leaders reminding them that the majority of people in Northern Ireland support same sex marriage.”

“Our fight to have our love recognised continues and we will discuss our options with our legal team.”

Mr Moynagh added: “We sighed when the ruling was read out not through disappointment but simply because the inevitable recognition of same sex marriage has been further delayed in Northern Ireland. The work will continue, the wind is to our back.”

The judgments come amid a long-running political dispute on the same-sex marriage ban in the region.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland where a prohibition still exists.

A majority of Assembly members backed a law change the last time the issue came to the floor of Stormont, but the DUP triggered a contentious voting mechanism to effectively block the measure.

Powersharing has since collapsed and the issue is one of the sticking points preventing its restoration, with Sinn Fein demanding the DUP stop standing in the way of a change.

The DUP insists it is not homophobic and is only defending the "traditional" definition of marriage.

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