Northern Ireland

NI same-sex marriage ban 'corrosive', court hears

Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close are challenging the ban on same-sex marriage

Northern Ireland's same-sex marriage ban is having a "corrosive" impact on society, a High Court judge has heard.

A lawyer for two same-sex couples challenging the ban claimed they are suffering state discrimination.

He said gay and lesbian couples can wed in the rest of the UK and Ireland.

"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," he said.

Grainne Close, her partner Shannon Sickles, and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane are taking legal action against the Stormont administration.

In 2005, they were the first couples to enter civil partnerships in the UK, when Northern Ireland was the first part of the UK to introduce the ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.

They claim that being denied the chance to get married in Northern Ireland breaches their human rights.

'Demeaning and offensive'

Opening their application for judicial review, a barrister said: "It's nothing less than state discrimination of a class of people who have been marginalised for many years.

"The life-long commitment of these four applicants is the same in every respect as that of any other couple. Those relationships deserve to be recognised as such by having equal access to civil marriage.

"It's demeaning and offensive that their unions have been relegated to a second-class status, namely civil partnerships."

Proceedings brought against the Department of Finance and Personnel claim the ban breaches entitlements to family life and marriage under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judge is hearing the challenge in tandem with a separate bid by two men who want their marriage in England to be recognised in their native Northern Ireland.

He will then rule on both cases at a later stage.

'Manifestly inappropriate'

Last month, Stormont voted in favour of changing the law for the first time.

However, the Democratic Unionist Party blocked it by deploying a mechanism requiring the proposal to achieve a cross-community majority.

The barrister told the court it had been "manifestly inappropriate" for the DUP to use a petition of concern in this area.

"Thirty assembly members can veto the will of the democratically elected 108 members of the assembly," he said.

He said Northern Ireland's prohibition of same-sex marriage was "perhaps the last great legislative instance of discrimination".

"To suffer such treatment based on the very nature of their being and private lives is wrong, he said.

He added: "It's corrosive to the very fabric of society that unites us and makes us strong."

The case continues.

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