Equal marriage campaigners have called for the law in Northern Ireland to be updated to allow same-sex weddings in churches and for the conversion of existing civil partnerships to marriages.
The call comes as the UK government yesterday announced a public consultation on the proposed changes, which are already in place in the rest of the UK.
Same-sex civil marriage became available in Northern Ireland on Monday, January 13 and the first weddings can take place in the week commencing February 10.
Under Government plans, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland would be able to get married in a religious ceremony where the church or other faith group wishes to offer such weddings, but no church would be compelled to offer same-sex weddings. Similar arrangements are already in place in the rest of the UK and Ireland.
The Rev Chris Hudson, the minister of All Souls Church, Belfast – a member of the Non-Subscribing Church of Ireland – says his counterparts in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland can already officiate same-sex weddings and he now wants the same freedom of religion in Northern Ireland.
“There should be legally-protected freedom of religion for those churches who want to offer weddings to same-sex couples, as well as to those who do not wish to provide this service to their LGBT+ believers.
“However, currently in Northern Ireland, that is a legal right which is currently denied to churches, ministers like me and same-sex couples of faith, who want to conduct their wedding in a religious setting. The Government must address this clear inequality without further delay.”
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International, said:
“Freedom of religion is an important human right. The law should protect it for all churches and people of faith, whether they support or oppose same-sex marriage. Freedom to practise one’s own religion must also mean allowing others the right to practise theirs.
“If a church wishes to offer weddings to same-sex couples of faith, then the law should not get in the way. Equally, those churches which do not wish to offer such weddings should face no compulsion to do so – that should simply be a matter for internal debate and decision within the particular faith.”
Conversion of civil partnerships
Same-sex couples with an existing civil partnership will not be able to convert this to a marriage. There are more than 1,200 same-sex couples in Northern Ireland who currently have civil partnerships.
Cara McCann, who entered a civil partnership with her partner Amanda McGurk in 2019, is frustrated that they cannot currently convert their civil partnership to marriage status, even though this is available in the rest of the UK.
“On Valentine’s Day last year, Amanda and I had our civil partnership ceremony. We would have preferred to get married, but the law didn’t allow that.
“Now, despite us having finally won the campaign for civil marriage equality, we still can’t get married because we have already entered a civil partnership. As things stand, the law leaves us an absurd, Catch-22 situation.
“We can’t wait for the law to be equalised so that we can convert our civil partnership to the marriage we always wanted. The NIO must sort this out as soon as possible – we have had to wait too long already.”
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