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Same-sex married couple slam NI Secretary Lewis over delay to gay weddings in church

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Robyn and Sharni Edwards-Peoples

Robyn and Sharni Edwards-Peoples

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Robyn and Sharni Edwards-Peoples

The first same-sex couple to marry in Northern Ireland have 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 is the one-year anniversary of the landmark House of Commons vote by MPs in legislating for same-sex marriage here.

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

A consultation on the issue began in January under previous Secretary of State Julian Smith, who was sacked in February.

His successor has since been tasked with bringing forward the regulations.

With indoor weddings here set to resume tomorrow following a relaxation of coronavirus regulations, it leaves the region 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, called on Mr Lewis to take urgent action.

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

Robyn added: "As we emerge from lockdown, and with weddings now permitted, there will be a lot of couples hoping to have long-awaited wedding days.

"But same-sex couples like us, who want to have a religious ceremony or who want to convert their civil partnership, can't even plan a date for their weddings at the moment."

Under the legislation, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland 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.

This could include more than 1,200 same-sex couples here who currently have civil partnerships.

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International urged Mr Lewis to bring forward the regulations.

He said: "A year on from the historic vote by the House of Commons to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland, the Government needs to stop this inexplicable hold-up and end the uncertainty and inequality for hundreds of couples.

"We urge the Secretary of State to use the remaining two weeks before summer recess to lay the necessary regulations in Parliament."

The UK Government said: "The Government legislated for same-sex civil marriage in Northern Ireland from January 13, 2020. 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 2020."

Belfast Telegraph