Northern Ireland: Amnesty welcomes start of same-sex marriage court challenge

“This couple took off from Heathrow as a married couple and landed in Belfast no longer married. That is how absurd the law is for same-sex couples.” – Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International

Amnesty International has welcomed the commencement of a legal challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

An anonymous same-sex couple seeking recognition of their marriage in Northern Ireland took their case to the Family Division of the High Court in Belfast this morning.

Claimant X and his husband are from Northern Ireland and were married in England last year, but are recognised as civil partners rather than spouses in Northern Ireland.

The couple is challenging the Northern Ireland Assembly and the UK government for their failure to legislate for equality of treatment across the UK. The case is being supported by the Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland’s largest LGBTI group and the PILS Project, a public interest litigation group.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, who was present in Belfast High Court today, said:

“This case is hugely significant. Following the repeated failure of the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate for marriage equality, litigation has been forced on this couple who simply want their marriage to be recognised as such in the place they live.

“It is the case of a couple who took off from Heathrow as a married couple and landed in Belfast no longer married. That is how absurd and inconsistent the marriage law for same-sex couples is in the UK.

“It is ludicrous that the couple’s legally-conducted marriage is recognised in England, Scotland and Wales, yet not where they live and work in Northern Ireland.

“It’s unacceptable that they have been forced into a courtroom in order to have what the rest of society takes for granted – for the State to recognise the legality of their marriage union.

“Success in this case could have positive implications for hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of other same-sex couples in Northern Ireland. With politicians having abdicated their responsibility to deliver equal treatment for same-sex couples, it is now over to the Courts.”

Amnesty International, in partnership with LGBTI groups and trade unions in Northern Ireland, is spearheading a campaign for marriage equality in the region, the only part of the UK or Ireland without provision for same-sex marriage.

A marriage equality demonstration organised by the groups attracted an estimated 20,000 onto the streets of Belfast during the summer. A recent Ipsos MORI opinion poll showed that 68% of people in Northern Ireland now support same-sex marriage, but politicians have failed to back a change in the law.

Last week the Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favour of the introduction of same‐sex marriage for the first time, but the Democratic Unionist Party blocked the motion using a ‘petition of concern’, originally designed to protect minority rights. 

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