Legal challenge against Northern Ireland gay marriage ban begins

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Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles are currently in court challenging Northern Ireland’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The court case began at 10am on Friday 26 June at Belfast High Court. Close and Sickles will be joined by civil partners Christopher and Henry Flanagan-Kane.

The two couples were the first in the UK to enter into civil partnerships back in 2005.

Close explains their reasons for joining the couple in court in an attempt to revoke the ban: “This is not a religious issue, it is a human rights issue. That is why we are going to court.”

She said she was inspired by the crowds at Dublin Castle, when the Republic of Ireland passed same-sex marriage by a referendum last month.

“I was at Dublin Castle for the result of the Republic of Ireland referendum and I was standing with a young man and woman and their baby. I was curious as to why they were there.” Close explained.

“They said they wanted to be there for their daughter…She could fall in love with a man or a woman and they wanted her to be able to enjoy equal citizenship.”

She continued: “Having gay marriage recognised in Northern Ireland is important to us…Not just in the present, but for future generations. I believe challenging the ban is the right thing to do.”

Earlier in this month, a rally was staged through Belfast city centre by 20,000 same-sex marriage advocates. This was done in support of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland- currently the only place in the UK where members of the LGBT community cannot be married.

Amnesty International commented that the ban has turned Northern Ireland into a: “Discriminatory backwater for the gay and lesbian community”.

The regional director for Amnesty International, Patrick Corrigan said: “Northern Ireland’s discriminatory laws are a badge of shame, not to be worn by the people of Northern Ireland, a majority of whom support same-sex marriage, but by those politicians who oppose equal treatment for the LGBTI community.”

It has also been pointed out by pro-gay marriage supporters that legal-status of same-sex married couples will create anomalies on each side of the border.

For example, a gay couple who have been married in Dublin, but choose to relocate to Belfast and settle there would not have their marriage recognised by law. The same goes for any gay couple who have been married where same-sex marriage is legal but choose to relocate to Belfast.

However, with the court case currently taking place, the results will soon show Northern Ireland’s stance on the matter.

In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionist Party government continues to block all LGBT rights legislation including same-sex marriage – with the measure rejected by Stormont for a fourth time last month despite popular support.

The DUP has dismissed calls to follow the Republic of Ireland in holding a referendum – but Northern Ireland is now very much isolated in Northern Europe on the issue.

In Europe, same-sex marriage is now legal in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden – as well as Scotland, England and Wales inside the United Kingdom.

The Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are also still to introduce equality – but have a much smaller population than Northern Ireland’s 1.8 million.

The case continues.