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Northern Ireland: Religious same-sex weddings made law in ‘landmark day’

First same-sex religious weddings can take place from September this year

Campaigners now call on Government to allow conversion of civil partnerships to marriage – the final move needed for full marriage equality

Amnesty International has welcomed a change in the law introduced by the UK Government today which, for the first time, will allow same-sex couples in Northern Ireland to have religious wedding ceremonies.

The Government introduced the change by laying new marriage regulations in Parliament. The law change – introduced after a long campaign by equality activists in Northern Ireland – will see the first same-sex church weddings take place from September 2020.

From 1 September, couples will be able to register to marry in a religious setting, and religious bodies can choose to opt in to provide same-sex weddings. With a statutory 28-day waiting period, the earliest date for a same-sex religious wedding will be 29 September.

Whilst campaigners welcome the move, they are urging the Government to make marriage fully equal by allowing same-sex couples with an existing civil partnership to be able to convert their partnership into a marriage.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Director and part of the Love Equality coalition, said:

“This is a landmark day for equality in Northern Ireland. After a long campaign, same-sex couples of faith will finally be able to marry in a church or other religious setting.

“In line with our calls, we are pleased that the law will protect religious freedom, and that churches will neither be compelled nor prevented from offering wedding ceremonies to same-sex couples.

“This is an important issue for many couples in Northern Ireland, who have previously been prevented by law from marrying in their own church.

“We now urge the Government to finish the job of marriage equality in Northern Ireland without further delay, by allowing couples in civil partnerships to convert to married status if they so wish.”

The Rev Chris Hudson, minister of All Souls Church in Belfast – a member of the Non-Subscribing Church of Ireland – also welcomed the law change:

“This is great news for couples who wish to celebrate their marriage in church, embraced by family, friends and the love of God.

“I have already been speaking to a number of couples who have been waiting for this day so they can finally have the church wedding that they have longed for. Autumn wedding bells will be ringing in Belfast.

“Until now, this legal right has been denied to churches, ministers like me, and same-sex couples of faith in Northern Ireland.

“I want to pay tribute to the activists of Love Equality, Amnesty International and the LGBT community, who have led such a positive, love-filled campaign and ensured that no-one would be left behind in the fight for equal rights for all.”

Same-sex civil marriage became legal in Northern Ireland on 13 January this year. The first wedding took place on 11 February, when Sharni Edwards and Robyn Peoples married in Carrickfergus. 

Religious weddings

Under the new law, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland will be able to get married in a religious ceremony where the church or other faith group wishes to offer such weddings, but no church will be compelled to offer same-sex weddings. Similar arrangements are already in place in the rest of the UK and Ireland.

Conversion of civil partnerships

Plans should allow same-sex couples with an existing civil partnership to convert this to a marriage through a simple administrative process. There are 1,200 same-sex couples in Northern Ireland who currently have civil partnerships. Government has committed to this law change by the end of 2020.

The Love Equality campaign for equal civil marriage in Northern Ireland is led by the Rainbow Project, Here NI, Amnesty International, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Cara-Friend, and NUS-USI.

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