Northern Ireland’s High Court has dismissed two landmark challenges against the country’s ban on same-sex marriages. Both cases were rejected on the grounds that the ban did not violate rights of LGBT couples, and because only the Stormont Assembly can decide Northern Ireland social policy.
Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly have voted five times before on whether to introduce same-sex marriage, but have been blocked by the Democratic Unionist Party.
, an associate in the Irwin Mitchell's
Family and Divorce Law team said:
'[Yesterday] could have marked a historic day for LGBT rights as the High Court in Belfast was asked to consider the cases of three couples who were attempting to challenge the law regarding same sex marriage in Northern Ireland but, sadly, the High Court has dismissed them.
Two of the couples, Shannon Sickels and Grainne Close, and Christopher and Henry Flanagan-Kane, are currently in civil partnerships and used judicial review to challenge the Assembly’s refusal to change the law in Northern Ireland so that equal marriage is permitted. The third couple, who wish to remain anonymous, entered into a marriage in England in 2014, but live in Northern Ireland. They sought to challenge the law because their marriage is only recognised as a civil partnership in Northern Ireland, much to their distress.
The Assembly actually voted in favour of equal marriage by a slim majority in November 2015, but the motion was blocked. Victory for these couples could have helped the Assembly overcome this sticking point, but when delivering his judgment the judge said that it was the Assembly’s role to make decisions about social policy, not his.
The law in Northern Ireland therefore remains out of step with the rest of the UK and much of western Europe, when one considers that equal marriage was legalised in England, Wales and Scotland in 2014, and that Germany’s parliament voted in a same-sex marriage bill in June this year, with Malta following suit in July.
This decision will certainly mean renewed pressure on the Assembly from equal marriage campaigners to bring about legislative change; after all, if people want to get married, whoever they are, they should be allowed to so that there is equality in terms of the legal protection and rights available to them and their families.'