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Rights groups to challenge Northern Ireland's gay marriage ban

The Rainbow Project and Amnesty International warn Northern Ireland’s government that it will face court action if it continues to ban same-sex marriage

Rights groups to challenge Northern Ireland's gay marriage ban

Amnesty International in partnership with a local LGBT group warned that Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government will soon face a human rights legal case over its continual refusal to legalize marriage equality.

In October 2012 members of Northern Ireland’s Stormont assembly rejected a motion by the Greens and Sinn Féin to legalize marriage equality.

Opposition came principally from Unionist parties that left Northern Ireland as the only part of the UK where LGBT people are excluded from a same-sex marriage bill.

 A marriage equality bill has already been passed in the Commons in February covering England and Wales.

The Scottish government will introduce a draft marriage equality bill later this year.      

It is unavoidable, say Amnesty and the Rainbow Project, that the LGBT community will use the Human Rights Act and European human rights legislation to force Northern Ireland to bring the law into line with the rest of the UK.

The Northern Ireland Office told The Guardian that LGBT rights is an issue devolved to the Stormont government.

Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance and Green parties broadly support the right of LGBT couples to marry but the Ulster Unionists and Democratic Unionists remain opposed.

The Presbyterian Church in Nothern Ireland remains strongly opposed to marriage equality, previously warning that such a law ‘would demolish generations and centuries of societal norms’.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s program director in Northern Ireland, told the Guardian that states can not discriminate against same sex couples in different parts of its territory. ‘That obligation is clear in international law.

‘This means marriage should be available to same sex couples in Northern Ireland just as soon as it will be to couples in other parts of the UK.

‘There could be a straightforward legal challenge on the basis of inferior treatment of same sex couples in Northern Ireland with regards to the right to marry and found a family’.

John O’Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project said ‘If a gay couple move to Northern Ireland their marriage is downgraded to a civil partnership.

‘This place is already struggling from a lack of inward investment compared to other parts of these islands so this anomaly makes our local economy even less welcome’.

Gavin Boyd, the project’s education and equality officer, said: ‘As long as there exists a legal inequality between Northern Ireland and Britain, there will be legal challenges. That has been the route that has been most successful in the past’. 

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