Northern Ireland’s gay marriage ban is ‘corrosive’ to society, Belfast High Court heard on Thursday (3 December).
In a landmark case, Gráinne Close and Shannon Sickles, and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane are suing the government for failing to legislate on gay marriage, which they say violates their human rights.
They were the first couples to enter civil partnerships in the UK in 2005. But parliament has repeated blocked legislation to legalize marriage, despite public support.
A July Ipsos MORI survey found that 68% of people in Northern Ireland support gay marriage.
‘Northern Ireland stands out as effectively a blot on the map which suggests to the rest of the world [it remains] a backward-looking and divided society,’ said the couples’ lawyer.
‘It’s nothing less than state discrimination of a class of people who have been marginalized for many years.’
He added: ‘It’s demeaning and offensive that their unions have been relegated to a second-class status, namely civil partnerships.’
In November, parliament passed a gay marriage bill for the first time in five votes. But the majority Democratic Unionist Party vetoed it.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Program Director, said the case was ‘hugely significant.’
‘Success in this case could have positive implications for thousands of other couples in Northern Ireland.
‘Following the repeated failure of the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate for marriage equality, couples have been forced into the courtroom to demand equal treatment before the law.
‘It is unacceptable that they have been obliged to sue the government in order to have what the rest of society takes for granted – for the state to recognize their right to get married.
‘With politicians having abdicated their responsibility to deliver equal treatment for same-sex couples, it is now over to the courts.’