Though same-sex marriage is legal in England, Wales and Scotland, there is no such provision in Northern Ireland and, as we have mentioned before, moves to institute it have been blocked consistently by the Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP has repeatedly filed Petitions of Concern in the Stormont Assembly, with the effect of preventing equal marriage legislation from any kind of progress. The result is that same-sex marriages from elsewhere in the UK are treated as civil partnerships.
The Belfast Telegraph reports that a same-sex couple in Northern Ireland who married in England in 2014 are seeking a declaration that they are validly married, arguing that the current law violates their religious freedom under Article 9 ECHR. Despite being together for some time, they chose not to have a civil partnership ceremony in Northern Ireland because it had no religious significance for them; instead, they were married in London in September after same-sex marriage was introduced in England. They have filed a case at the High Court contending that by treating their religious marriage as a civil union, Northern Ireland is infringing their right to manifest. Their solicitor, Ciaran Moynagh, told the Belfast Telegraph that:
“They are saying the downgrading of their marriage isn’t lawful and one of the aspects is that they are arguing that their religious liberty is being infringed. The petitioner says that he has a belief in God, within the liberal Christian tradition, and he chose to have a religious marriage. Northern Irish law does not recognise their marriage as a marriage, and that therefore denies them their right to manifest their beliefs.
My clients are not activists, not in any way, they are not trying to directly change legislation. Their aim is simply to have their marriage recognised as what it is. They did not want to do this, court is a last resort. If they are unsuccessful with their petition to have their marriage declared valid, then one potential remedy to this in the High Court is try and get a declaration of incompatibility.”
The case will be heard on the same day as a separate petition for judicial review brought by Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane: the first couples in Northern Ireland to enter into civil partnerships when they were introduced almost ten years ago. The two couples will argue that because Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK that does not allow same-sex marriage, that failure constitutes an infringement of their human rights – presumably citing Article 12 (right to marry).