As of Monday, over 1,300 same-sex couples in Northern Ireland can now convert their civil partnerships into marriages.
Civil unions were the last part of the legal puzzle in the road to equality for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland.
On October 22, the law change happened with the introduction of new regulations in Parliament by Northern Ireland Minister, Robin Walker. ‘The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020’ was the final regulatory change necessary to permit full marriage equality in the region, following the historic legalisation of same-sex civil marriage (January 13), then same-sex religious marriage (September 1), which were secured after a long campaign by the Love Equality coalition.
Couples in civil partnerships will have a three-year window during which they can convert to married status through a simple administrative process. Fees will be waived during the first year.
Leading LGBTQ+ activist in Northern Ireland Cara McCann and her now-wife Amanda McGurk are the first to have their civil partnership converted into a marriage in a ceremony taking place at Belfast City Hall today.
Today after a long wait I officially get to be your wife @caramccann. I can’t believe it, love you ❤️ pic.twitter.com/sYlx9JGMz1
— Amanda McGurk (@amanda_mcgurk) December 7, 2020
“This is a really big day not just for us but for our family and friends. We will no longer be treated as ‘less than’,” Cara told Irish News.
“We were never looking for special treatment but wanted to be seen as equal in the eyes of the law. There are over 1,000 people in civil partnerships who can choose to convert. For some, they may not wish to but it’s about giving people that choice.
“There is a lot of excitement and comes after a very positive campaign run by the ‘Love Equality’ team. We had one foot in Stormont and one in Westminster.
“For us, it means so much more than marriage. Same-sex couples will be waking up on Monday a wee bit more equal and feeling more valued.”
Also celebrating today are Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane, the first gay men in the UK to get a civil partnership in 2005, were one of the first going through the process.
Finance Minister Conor Murphy said 17 couples were expected to convert their civil partnerships to marriages on Monday with a total of 32 planned for this week.
Looking forward to their marriage ceremony which will be held at Belfast City Hall today the Flanagan-Kane’s said the “long, long slog” has been worth it as their love is now fully recognised as equal.
“Love is love,” Chris told the BBC. “If you fall in love, you want to get married and want the same rights as our heterosexual brothers and sisters.
“But in Northern Ireland, we were denied the right to have equal marriage.”
An important step for Chris and Henry was to become parents. Adoption for same-sex couples was banned in Northern Ireland until 2013 but following the ban being lifted, the couple adopted two children, Aodhan, eight, and Evelyn, two.
In spite of that, as civil partners, Chris said they were still “discriminated” against and that now that they can convert to marriage, they feel they are recognised as a fully equal family.
“It was for the kids and for the future,” he said.
“We don’t want our kids growing up thinking we’re not equal to everyone else in the world, that we’re lesser people or we’re doing something wrong.
“We’ll have been in a civil partnership 15 years next month, we’ve got two kids – you know what, we’re doing better than some heterosexual couples and we’ve lasted a lot longer too.”
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