Ahead of a legal challenge in Belfast’s High Court today (Thursday), Amnesty International has reiterated its call for Northern Ireland to lift its ban on same-sex marriage.

The High Court is set to hear a Judicial Review taken by two couples challenging Northern Ireland’s ban on same-sex marriage. Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles, and Charles and Henry Flanagan-Kane, the first two couples to become civil partners in the UK, are taking the case. Success would mean an end to Northern Ireland’s same-sex marriage ban.
Marriage is available to same-sex couples in every other part of the UK and Ireland. Amnesty International considers Northern Ireland law to be in breach of international human rights standards which specify that countries must not discriminate with regards to the right to marry and found a family on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Laura McMahon, lawyer for the couples, will argue that to bar equal marriage is a fundamental discrimination of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said:

“This case is hugely significant. Success in this case could have positive implications for thousands of other couples in Northern Ireland.

“Following the repeated failure of the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate for marriage equality, couples have been forced into the courtroom to demand equal treatment before the law.

“It is unacceptable that they have been obliged to sue the government in order to have what the rest of society takes for granted – for the State to recognise their right to get married.

“With politicians having abdicated their responsibility to deliver equal treatment for same-sex couples, it is now over to the Courts.”

The court challenge comes against a backdrop of widespread and increasing public support in Northern Ireland for the introduction of marriage rights for same-sex couples, following the Yes vote in the marriage equality referendum in the Republic of Ireland in May 2015.

In July, an Ipsos MORI Survey showed that 68% of people in Northern Ireland support same-sex marriage being recognised in law. This followed a march through Belfast, organised by Amnesty, the rainbow Project and trade unions, which saw an estimated 20,000 people take to the streets to demand a change in the law. Last month the Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favour of the introduction of same‐sex marriage for the first time, but the Democratic Unionist Party blocked the motion using a ‘petition of concern’, originally designed to protect minority rights.