Judge rules same-sex couple faced discrimination after their marriage status was not recognised in Northern Ireland

Following a six-year legal battle, a judge ruled that there was a failure to recognise the marriage status of a same-sex couple in Northern Ireland.

Same-sex couple Northern Ireland

The Court of Appeal has ruled a same-sex couple faced unjustified discrimination after their marital status was changed to civil partnership on their return to Northern Ireland.

Petitioner ‘X’ and his husband took legal action to ensure their marriage remains fully constituted after they wed in London in 2003 and returned to Northern Ireland. Following a six-year-long legal battle, senior judges identified a failure to provide them with the same recognition as heterosexual couples. 

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan delivered judgement in the Petitioner X case. He said, “The failure to recognise the appellant’s marriage must give rise to the same unjustified discrimination as compared to heterosexual couples whose marriages were recognised in similar circumstances.”

Before 2020, the same-sex couple could only be classified for a civil partnership in Northern Ireland. Petitioner X initially brought his case to the High Court, however he was dismissed in August 2017. The judge held it was up to the government to provide same-sex marriages rights rather than through the judiciary system. 

Appealing the judge’s verdict, counsel for Petitioner X highlighted it was a matter of equal recognition for an existing marriage. The case was taken against the assembly and the British government. 

Petitioner X’s solicitor, Ciaran Moynagh, said: “We are relieved the court has found there was unjustified discrimination. My client has always wanted respect and dignity in Northern Ireland for their marriage.”

Moynagh further stated, “We are going to read the judgment carefully and consider our position – there could potentially be a claim for damages for a breach of European Convention rights over a period of two and a half years.”

In April 2020, the Court of Appeal also ruled that LGBT+ couples denied the opportunity to marry in Northern Ireland faced unjust discrimination.

Delivering judgement, Sir Declan said, “We are satisfied that it was clear by the time of the delivery of the first instance judgment in this case in August 2017 that the absence of same-sex marriage in this jurisdiction discriminated against same-sex couples, that a fair balance between tradition and personal rights had not been struck and that therefore the discrimination was not justified.”

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