Gay marriage push in Northern Ireland

Marriage|November 14th 2014

Gay rights campaigners are trying a new legal strategy to have same-sex marriage recognised in Northern Ireland.

A legal challenge to the current ban is being prepared by LGBT campaign group the Rainbow Project. They claim that the law is discriminatory and breaches the human rights of same-sex couples.

The focus of the challenge will be on the plight of a gay couple who got legally married in England before returning to Northern Ireland.

As things stand, same-sex couples who lawfully marry elsewhere in the UK, or anywhere else where it is legal, are not legally recognised as married upon their return home.

Gavin Boyd, Policy and Advocacy Manager of the Rainbow Project, said that this was an “unlawful, unjust, and unjustifiable” state of affairs.

The new legal challenge may prove to be a popular move. A recent poll suggested that the legalisation of gay marriage would be supported by a majority of people.

Despite its apparent popularity, Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK which does not have marriage equality.  In May, its MPs voted against legalising gay marriage for the third time.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Scotland since February, when its parliament voted in favour of legalisation. Not long afterwards, England and Wales followed suit with the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act.

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  1. Andrew says:

    Under the Civil Partnerships Act a same-sex marriage in another country was treated as a civil partnership throughout the UK. That of course has now changed in GB where both jurisdictions recognise same-sex marriage; but not in NI, at least not yet.

    In Wilkinson -v- Kitzinger and the A-G two ladies who had married in Canada claimed that their marriage should be recognised in England as a marriage, not just as a c.p. – and lost.

    It seems to me that unless the NI court is persuaded not to follow the judgment of the President in that case this challenge must fail.

    • George says:

      What you are talking about is a completely different situation. That couple went to a country far away almost a decade ago and came back asking for the same laws to be implemented in England which was at a different stage in its developement to Canada. It was bound to fail.

      This case involves the last remaining country in the UK to have the same rights as all other parts of the UK. I think this case is much more likely to succeed than the case you are citing.

      As well as that, a recent poll in Northern Ireland showed that there was a majority, albeit a narrow one, of people that would support the implementation of gay marriage in the country. This indicates that NI is ready, or almost ready, for this potential change and this may positively influence the judges decision on the matter.

      • Andrew says:

        George: Distance is irrelevant. So is membership of the UK. NI and England are separate jurisdictions for the purposes of private law. NI is now where England was then; it allows c.p. but not s.s.m. and recognises foreign s.s.m., legal where the ceremony was, but only as a c.p. So not a “completely different situation”; in domestic terms, an identical situation,

        If the plaintiffs, as they still call them in NI (good for NI) take a Convention point the court might see a change there: at least one more country (France) permits s.s.m. now which did not then.

        I doubt if the opinion poll is admissible even in submissions, let alone in evidence; it should not be and would not be here. Following Pepper -v- Hart the vote against might be.

        A bit of backstory here. When homosexual acts were decriminalised in NI, c. 1981, all the parties opposed it. That includes the SDLP in the House and Sinn Fein from outside; they both prefer to forget about that now. Paisley had a real go at the majority in the House, as only he could. He said that the English laughed at the NI people for arguing about things which they, the English, no longer thought important. And then, when for once the NI people agreed about something what happened? The English ignored and outvoted them!

        • George says:

          All of Britian has same sex marriage.
          The Republic of Ireland will have Same sex marriage within six months time if the strong support shown in all opinion polls holds up for the referendum, and I believe it will.
          That leaves this tiny piece of land that I live in, which doesn’t have it.
          Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden (to name a few as well as France) within europe also have same sex marriage now but did not then.

          Why are you talking about things that happened 35 years ago. Things have changed. People have moved on.
          Many parties support it now including: Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance and Green party.
          Only unionist parties are against it, specifically the DUP. In fact 4 people in the UUP voted yes the last time the bill was proposed.
          My point is there is a lot of political support for equality at present.
          There is pressure from Britian and the south to implement it.
          The public is in favour of it: and this support is growing.
          Other countries within the European union, of which the UK is a part of, are implementing it.

          I’m not sure you know what you are talking about. The English did not “outvote” NI people to decriminalise homosexuality. It was decriminalised because of a case, Dudgeon v. United Kingdom in which the European court of Human Rights ruled it violated the European Convention on Human Rights. This led to its decriminalisation, not the English.

          It seems to me that you are against gay marriage and I respect your opinion on that. However I am in full support of it and I personally hope this case will succeed. I honestly think it has a good chance of it too.

          • Andrew says:

            If by “Britain” you mean Great Britain, England and Wales and Scotland, then indeed they all have s.s.m. You are right also in saying that the countries you name have it which did not at the time of Wilkinson. That is the best chance for the plaintiffs in this proposed claim in that part of the the UK which does not have it.

            However, in a jurisdiction with an elected legislature the best measure of public opinion is the vote of the legislature or, where the constitution so requires or permits as in the RoI a referendum – buy not an opinion poll.

            Now as to Dudgeon: of course I am aware of it! My tale from 1981 was a bit of anecdotage, no more and no less. The fact remains that had there been an elected legislature in Northern Ireland at the time the idea of decriminalising homosexual acts would have been voted down, and that all the MPs from NI voted against it Westminster – so yes, it was forced through by votes from GB, mainly of course from England. That is fact, however uncomfortable it may be for the parties from NI of today. If the old Parliament of NI had still been functioning at the time Parliament at Westminster would have had to overrule its wishes in the exercise of its ultimate sovereignty and I can well imagine – and so can you – how the parties in NI would have reacted, especially the nationalist/Republican parties.

            The Conservatives in GB have admitted that they were wrong over Section 28 and similar humility from the parties in NI would not come amiss.

            (I cannot resist the further story that when the law was changed in England and Wales (but not Scotland, let alone NI) in 1967 the RC Archbishop of Armagh remarked that such a law in NI would not only be wrong, it would be pointless, because “such things did not happen anywhere in Ireland”!)

            My view on s.s.m? Up to the people acting through the political process in each jurisdiction. It should not be forced upon them by supra-national institutions, This is a matter where the law of each jurisdiction should be sensitive to the culture of that jurisdiction, just like the existence of divorce or the grounds for it, or the very different laws of testate and intestate succession in different countries within the Council of Europe, and indeed within the UK. If you are right about opinion in NI it will sooner or alter be reflected in the law.

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