Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close, and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane, the first UK couples in civil partnerships, are to begin a legal battle over full marriage equality in the High Court tomorrow.
Northern Ireland was the first place in the UK to recognise civil partnerships and hosted the first ceremonies at Belfast City Hall almost a decade ago. It is now the only part of the UK and Ireland that has not legalised same-sex marriage.
Both couples are taking part in a legal case to overturn the bar on LGBT couples getting married in Northern Ireland. They will launch their legal case tomorrow morning.
In a Facebook post, Ms Close wrote: “This year, December 19th, 2015 Shannon and I, along with Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane, will celebrate 10 years of our civil partnerships.
“On (Friday) June 26th, 10am in the High Court, the four of us are bringing a legal challenge for a judicial review of the legislative prohibition preventing us from entering into civil marriage.”
She added: “Our barrister, Laura McMahon, will argue that to bar equal marriage is a fundamental discrimination of our rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, which is without justification.”
“The fact that we have to stand in a different queue from opposite-sex peers when it comes to having our relationship recognised by the state is itself indicative that we are treated differently.”
Same-sex marriage advocates are urging supporters to attend the High Court at 10am on Friday.
John O’Doherty, director of gay support organisation the Rainbow Project, said: “Anything that tests the legal basis of Northern Ireland’s ban on civil marriage is a positive step.
“I will be at the court on Friday to show our support” he added.
Mr O’Doherty’s organisation is also supporting another legal challenge that could act as a stepping stone to bringing civil marriage equality to Northern Ireland. It is being brought by two residents of Northern Ireland lawfully married in England but whose marriage is only recognised as a civil partnership in Northern Ireland.
The couple will ask the court to declare that their marriage remains lawfully constituted in Northern Ireland.
Grainne Teggart, spokesperson for Amnesty International, said:
“Northern Ireland’s politicians have made this region a discriminatory backwater for the gay and lesbian community by repeatedly failing to legislate for marriage equality.
“We predicted there would be this kind of legal challenge as politicians were leaving the region’s same-sex couples with no choice but to go to the courts.
“As on so many issues, Northern Ireland’s politicians lag behind the people. Between the marriage equality referendum in Ireland and legislation in the UK there is unstoppable momentum to bring equal marriage to this region.
“Same sex couples in every part of the UK should have an equal right to marry the person they love.”
Earlier this month, an estimated 20,000 supporters of marriage equality attended a rally in Belfast organised by The Rainbow Project, The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Amnesty International.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has backed the campaign to lift the ban, claiming that it not only violates European human rights law but also equality legislation contained within the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Singer Bronagh Gallagher, supported by Quire, Belfast’s LGBT choir, performed at the Belfast City Hall rally, which was also attended by Gary Lightbody of band Snow Patrol.
Motivate yourself to redouble your efforts to keep up pressure on Northern Ireland’s institutions to support civil marriage equality by checking out some of the speeches and scenes of this month’s marriage equality rally below.
Queerspace video featuring some of the speeches made at the rally at Belfast City Hall below: