Couple Launch Legal Challenge Against Northern Ireland’s Gay Marriage Ban

Ten years after Northern Ireland’s first civil partnership, Sharron Sickles and her partner, Grainne Close, are going to court. 

They’ll argue that under the European Human Rights Convention they should be allowed to marry

Northern Ireland is the only country in the United Kingdom not to allow gay marriage. 

Northern Ireland’s ban on gay marriage

In 2005, Northern Ireland was the first country in the United Kingdom to hold a civil partnership. Since then, they’ve fallen somewhat behind. At present Northern Ireland has no plan – not even a vague one – to legalise gay marriage.
Despite increasing support for equal marriage among the population, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) remains strictly opposed. They’ve blocked measures to introduce it some four times now. The latest, in April, came just a month before the Republic of Ireland took to the polls to vote yes.

As the country’s dominant political party, the DUP’s refusal to even consider the possibility of gay marriage has left many same-sex couples feeling disheartened and frustrated.

The Case Brought by Sickles and Close

A law change doesn’t have to come through a country’s political apparatus, however. Sickles and Close are hoping to challenge the ban on the grounds that it is discriminatory. They argue that as there is no valid reason as to why same-sex couples can’t marry, when opposite-sex couples can, then the law can’t allow it.
You may remember that last week, we wrote about Mexico’s quiet overthrow of its own gay marriage ban on similar grounds: that to differentiate between gay and straight couples was discrimination and, therefore, unlawful. In the coming years, we may see more and more campaigners using a country’s constitution or human rights legislation to bring about positive marital equality. 

The couple will be joined in court by Chris and Henry Flanigan-Kane, who, in 2005, were the second couple to have a civil partnership in Northern Ireland.

The Guardian reported that Close had taken to Facebook to write the following:

“This year, December 19th, 2015 Shannon and I, along with Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane, will celebrate 10 years of our civil partnerships.“Northern Ireland was the first place in the UK to recognise civil partnership legislation and is now the last place in the UK and Ireland to recognise equal marriage.
“On June 26th, 10am in the high court, the four of us are bringing a legal challenge for a judicial review of the legislative prohibition preventing us from entering into civil marriage.”
“Our barrister, Laura McMahon, will argue that to bar equal marriage is a fundamental discrimination of our rights under the European convention on human rights, which is without justification.” 

How You Can Help

If you’re local to Belfast, go down to the courthouse on Friday and show your support. There really is strength in numbers. This issue isn’t going away, and politicians and lawmakers need to be reminded of this.

Show your support for the Rainbow Project. Based in Belfast, they’re working to improve the lives of gay people across Northern Ireland and they’re backing this latest court challenge.

We’ll be following this story with interest so make sure you’re following us to stay up-to-date. What do you think Northern Ireland’s chances are? Comment below or come and say hello on our Twitter, Facebook and Google + pages. 

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