Northern Ireland same-sex couples celebrating and planning for future after equality arrives at last
Same-sex couples in Belfast celebrated with wedding cake, flowers and balloons yesterday ahead of an historic change to marriage laws in Northern Ireland.
As of midnight, legislation passed by Westminster in Stormont's absence means that civil marriage between same-sex partners here is no longer illegal and it's expected the first weddings can take place from mid-February.
Attempts to change the law before have previously been blocked by the DUP in the Assembly using the petition of concern mechanism.
At an event organised by the Love Equality campaign group in the Merchant Hotel, four couples told the Belfast Telegraph it was a life-changing moment.
Cara McCann (44) and Amanda McGurk (39) held their civil partnership ceremony at the same venue on Valentine's Day this year and have a grown-up son.
"No one grows up saying: 'I can't wait to get a civil partnership'. You say: 'I can't wait to get married'," said Cara.
"It's just amazing. We've been campaigning on this issue for many years and when we wake up in the morning, we'll be that much more equal to our heterosexual brothers and sisters.
"We have a son, so we also think it's really important for the parents of LGBT people that they don't get treated as less than in their school."
Amanda added: "We would love for this change to have come from Stormont, but we've waited so long and had to utilise whatever mechanism we had."
Owen McCabe (27) and Shane Sweeney (35) from Belfast have been together for nearly eight years.
"When we got engaged three-and-a-half years ago we pinned our colours to the mast and said we would wait until there was marriage equality," said Shane.
"In the meantime we've bought a house, but we will get married and it's great to have the option to do it when we wish."
Owen said: "To finally get marriage equality in the country we're from is just amazing.
"We don't have to cross any borders or go over to England, so to start planning our wedding is just incredible."
Catherine Couvert (57) and Sally Bridge (52) live in Belfast, they have been together for 18 years, getting a civil partnership in 2006, and have two grown-up sons.
For them the protections of a civil marriage are just as important as equal recognition.
"For us, today is a huge step towards full equality," said Sally.
"It's very important for us as well, as Catherine is French, so if we ever wanted to move over there our civil partnership wouldn't be recognised.
"Or, if anything ever happened when we were over there, I would have less rights.
"It's all very nice to think about the romance of equality in terms of the wedding and the flowery dress, but there's also huge practical implications in marriage equality."
Catherine added: "Another big thing is what happens to someone when they're older and need to go into care, or if you have a disability or mental health issues?
"If you're poor or an asylum seeker, how do services treat you? The more that people accept that LGBT people are an integral part of society and that we have the right to the same services, the better."
Jayne Robinson (37) and Laura Robinson (36) from Carrickfergus celebrated their civil partnership two years ago and have an 11-year-old daughter.
"It's a momentous occasion. For me, there's been a two-tier system in Northern Ireland for quite some time. It's important that our love and family is just as valid as everyone else," said Laura.
"I think, in particular, it sends a positive message to young LGBT people starting to grow up and come out in our society."
Jayne explained that celebrating their civil partnership with family and friends had been "fantastic" but the distinction from civil marriage also made it "bittersweet".
"It was that bit different, there was certain things we weren't allowed to say in our ceremony, there was some lack of recognition by some other people and wider society that our day wasn't as meaningful as others," she said.
"I wouldn't change our day for the world, but this validation now is very important to us."