On 28 October, the House of Commons debated the Report pursuant to section 3(5) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. In the course of that debate, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith MP, said this:
“Following 21 October, a further duty in relation to providing for same-sex marriage and opposite-sex civil partnerships in Northern Ireland has also come into effect. The Government will ensure that the necessary regulations are in place by 13 January 2020, so that civil marriage between couples of the same sex and civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples can take place in Northern Ireland. From that date, we expect that couples will be able to give notice of their intent to form a civil same-sex marriage or opposite-sex civil partnership to the General Register Office for Northern Ireland. Given the usual 28-day notice period, the first marriages should be able to take place in the week of Valentine’s day.
Following concerns raised by the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) about the timing of a consultation on conversions from civil partnerships to same-sex marriage and marriage to opposite-sex civil partnerships, we are exploring whether we can consult shortly with a view to delivering the regulations as closely as possible to the previously mentioned regulatory timetable. Regulations to enable religious same-sex marriage ceremonies and to provide appropriate religious protections will also follow shortly, allowing a period of consultation so that the regulations can be tailored appropriately to the particular needs and circumstances of Northern Ireland” [emphasis added].