Same-sex couples in Northern Ireland to sue government over delays converting civil partnerships into marriage

Northern Ireland same-sex marriage

Same-sex couples in Northern Ireland are taking legal action against the UK government after it emerged that civil partnerships can’t be converted to marriages under the new law.

Same-sex couples in Northern Ireland will be allowed to marry under the new law from January, but the 1,200 couples already in civil partnerships will be left in limbo, Love Equality has revealed.

Joining the same-sex couples in legal action are two Christian couples and a Christian minister who are fighting the law because it prohibits couples from getting married in a religious ceremony.

Current proposals for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland ‘do not deliver’ on commitment, solicitor says.

“The government made a commitment to equal access to marriage for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland,” Ciaran Moynagh, the solicitor representing the couples said.

“Current proposals do not deliver on that commitment. My clients feel they have no choice but to take this action for themselves and on behalf of many others who face the prospect of continued inequality of treatment.”

Cara McCann had a civil partnership ceremony with her partner Amanda McGurk earlier this year, and she is now heartbroken to learn that they cannot convert their existing union into a marriage. They are one of the couples taking legal action against the government.

My clients feel they have no choice but to take this action for themselves and on behalf of many others who face the prospect of continued inequality of treatment.

“Just a few weeks ago, I sat in a room in Stormont House with government ministers and officials and was told that I could become a married woman in the New Year. Now, the government has changed its mind,” McCann said.

“Our campaign for equal marriage has always been about rejecting second-class citizenship. We have already won our campaign in parliament. Now we will go to court to ensure the government does not escape its legal obligation.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty UK’s Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan stressed that nobody should be left behind under marriage equality.

“That means same-sex couples in civil partnerships and religious couples must be able to marry on an equal basis, while ensuring that freedom of religion is properly protected for all,” Corrigan said.

“We want the same rights for people in Northern Ireland as already exist in the rest of the UK. That is what Parliament voted for. We are determined that the Government will deliver the will of Parliament in full.”

The Northern Ireland Office has said they intend to run public consultations on these issues in 2020 – but that will be too late for same-sex couples who find themselves trapped in civil partnerships.

Marriage equality was described as life changing, but that now feels hollow for couples in civil partnerships.

When it was confirmed in October that same-sex marriage and abortion would be legalised in Northern Ireland, same-sex couples told the Belfast Telegraph that it was a life-changing moment for them.

“When we got engaged three-and-a-half years ago we pinned our colours to the mast and said we would wait until there was marriage equality,” said Shane Sweeney, who has been with his partner Owen McCabe for nearly eight years.

Laura Robinson from Carrickfergus added: “It’s a momentous occasion. For me, there’s been a two-tier system in Northern Ireland for quite some time. It’s important that our love and family is just as valid as everyone else.

“I think, in particular, it sends a positive message to young LGBT people starting to grow up and come out in our society.”

But that victory may now feel hollow for couples locked in civil partnerships and those excluded from having faith-based wedding ceremonies.