The High Court has ruled against recognising equal marriage in Northern Ireland.
Belfast’s High Court issued a long-awaited ruling today on lawsuits seeking equal marriage in the region, which is the only part of the UK that does not permit or recognise marriages between people of the same sex.
One of the two cases was brought by an anonymous Northern Irish couple who entered a same-sex marriage in England.
Under Northern Irish law, the region treats same-sex marriages from elsewhere as if they are civil partnerships, but the couple argued this violated their human rights.
In the High Court today, Mr Justice O’Hara rejected their challenge.
The judge held that there were no grounds to conclude under case law from the European Court of Human Rights that the couple’s rights have been violated by the refusal to recognise their marriage as a marriage.
DUP leader Arlene Foster has blocked equal marriage (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
The judge explained: “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.”
Progress on the issue has been stalled for many years.
Though a majority of Northern Ireland Assembly Members voted for equal marriage in 2015, the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party employed ‘petitions of concern’ to veto all legislation on the issue.
The DUP has vowed to continue employing its veto. To further hinder progress, the Assembly is not currently functioning due to the collapse of power-sharing.
The Judge acknowledged: “To the frustration of supporters of same sex marriage the Assembly has not yet passed into law any measure to recognise and introduce same sex marriage.
“Their frustration is increased by the fact that the Assembly has voted by a majority in favour of same sex marriage, but by reason of special voting arrangements which reflect the troubled past of this State, that majority has not been sufficient to give the vote effect in law.”
In a statement issued by their solicitor, Ciaran Moynagh, the couple in the case said: “We want our vows to be recognised in Northern Ireland because the traditional values associated with marriage are important to us.
“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.”
Ciaran Moynagh said: “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.”
A second case, from a couple seeking to challenge the Assembly on the issue was also rejected.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May recently expressed her personal support for same-sex marriage, in a column for PinkNews.
Writing for PinkNews, Mrs May affirmed: “I want all British citizens to enjoy the fullest freedoms and protections. That includes equal marriage – because marriage should be for everyone, regardless of their sexuality.
“And while that is a matter for the devolved government of Northern Ireland, I will continue to make my position clear – that LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland should have the same rights as people across the rest of the UK.”
The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Arlene Foster recently reaffirmed plans to continue using peace process powers to override the Northern Irish Assembly and block equal marriage.
She defended her actions by insisting gay people don’t really want to get married anyway.
She said: “This suggestion that every single person who’s a homosexual wants to change the definition of marriage is actually wrong.
“I know plenty of people in that community who don’t want to see marriage redefined and are quite content to live in partnership… it’s all become a bit of a storm in a teacup.”
Foster also branded the campaign for equal marriage “toxic” – for suggesting she has homophobic views.
She said: “[The] most frustrating thing about this whole debate is the fact that if you stand up for marriage and if you stand up for the definition of marriage as we believe in it, then in some way that makes you homophobic and a hater of gays.
“Nothing could be further from the truth as far as I personally am concerned and it really does hurt me when people call me a homophobe just because I stand up for the definition of marriage which I believe in and I think this debate has become very toxic.”
A senior DUP minister previously branded LGBT Pride events “totally repugnant”.