oh what a tangled web we weave …

Couples to sue over NI same-sex marriage delays
Owen Bowcott, Groon, Nov 14 2019

Campaigners for same-sex marriage in NI are planning legal action over govt delays in converting civil partnerships into marriages. With the first weddings expected around Valentine’s Day this coming February, more than 1,200 gay couples already in partnerships have discovered bureaucratic barriers to tying the knot. Civil partnerships cannot be dissolved within their first two years in NI, and can only subsequently end on the grounds of separation, unreasonable behaviour or desertion. When same-sex marriages were introduced in England and Wales in 2014, the legislation provided an automatic route for those already in civil partnerships to convert their union into a marriage. A similar procedure has not yet been organised by the government’s NI Office. Westminster passed the NI Executive Formation Act in October, formally decriminalising abortion and legislating for same-sex marriage in the region. Anti-abortion groups led by the DUP tried to prevent the moves, by recalling the Stormont assembly for the first time in almost three years, but failed. As the law stands, the 1,200 couples in NI who already have civil partnerships will not be able to convert to full married status in the new year. Legal action is being prepared to challenge the delays. The Love Equality campaign said that a same-sex couple in a civil partnership, two Christian couples and a Christian minister will bring the legal challenge. Amanda McGurk entered a civil partnership with Cara McCann earlier this year, before the law changed, and she was devastated to learn she could miss out on her dream wedding. She said:

My heart broke again, and I can assure you that I was not the only person in that room whose heart broke, and I could feel other hearts breaking right beside me. It was absolutely horrific to realise that we had now gotten so close, again to have it ripped away from us, and the realisation that again some of us were going to be treated as second-class citizens within our own community. If we had delayed our civil partnership for a year, we could be getting married. We all want to get married when we grow up, we don’t want to be civilly partnered. I don’t want to have a civil partner, I want to have a wife.

McCann said:

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. 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.

The Rev Chris Hudson, the minister of All Souls Church Belfast, a member of the Non-Subscribing Church of Ireland, said:

All of my colleagues in the rest of the UK and the RI can officiate at a same-sex marriage. To decide that you will lock couples of faith out of a process that is on offer to heterosexual couples, which is faith marriage, to me seems to be, and I don’t like using this word, but it is discriminatory.

A UK govt spox said:

Parliament passed legislation which requires the government to put in place legislation to allow for civil same-sex marriage and opposite-sex civil partnership in NI by Jan 13 2020. We are working to meet this deadline.

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