Same sex marriage battle goes to court

24 Jun 2015 Nick Garbutt    Last updated: 6 Jul 2015

The first gay couple to celebrate a civil partnership in Northern Ireland are seeking a judicial review challenging the ban on gay couples getting married here. 

Ten years ago this December Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles made global headlines when they became the first in the UK to go through a civil partnership ceremony at Belfast City Hall.

Now they want to get married.

In April the Assembly at Stormont voted down an Equal Marriage motion by 49 votes to 47, the fourth time such a motion was defeated. In this case the votes cast were irrelevant as the DUP had raised a petition of concern which would have meant its failure even if it had secured a majority.

Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK and Ireland where gay people are not permitted to get married.

Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles argue that this is a violation of their human rights.

They posted the following on Facebook:

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. We are unable to enter into a marriage solely because we live in Northern Ireland.

Our barrister, Laura McMahon BL, 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. Ms McMahon will further argue that the use of Petitions of Concern by the NI Assembly to bar the introduction of equal marriage means that we have no other choice but to revert to the court to seek to bring about equality for us and other same-sex couples.

This is not about Shannon and I wanting the right to walk up the aisle in St.Mary's Church, Ahoghill (that notion left me a long time ago!). We are being denied a basic human right. You will hear the arguments from DUP and other religious groups (all the same that have been played out in the Irish referendum) that we have civil partnership, so why marriage?

The fact that we have to stand in a different queue from opposite sex peers when it comes to having our relationship recognised by the State is itself indicative that we are treated differently. If you are available on June 26th at 10am feel free to show up at the high court.” 


Their action is the latest in what have been a series of clashes on rights issues, where, unable to secure progress through the Executive and Assembly those affected have taken to the courts.

When the then Health Minister Edwin Poots decided not to follow precedent across the rest of the UK to allow gay men to give blood a judge ruled that his decision was “irrational” and “infected with apparent bias”. The Department of Health is currently appealing this decision and has invested £40,000 so far in the process, despite the BBC’s claims that it has no evidence to support the ban.

In 2013 the Court of Appeal upheld a claim by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission that a ban on gay adoption was a breach of human rights legislation.

Judgement is currently awaited on the Human Rights Commission’s action against the Department of Justice, which claims that abortion should be available in cases of rape, incest or when complications in the pregnancy mean that the foetus has no chance of survival.

The abortion case and the impending one on marriage equality will be important landmark cases, both are matters devolved by Westminster to the Assembly. Both address rights which are available in the rest of the UK, but not in Northern Ireland.


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