Gay rights campaigners have turned their fire on David Cameron after a lawyer for his Government argued against an attempt to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland.
The Rainbow Project said it was “dismayed” that the prime minister, who had championed the introduction of gay marriage in the rest of the UK, was arguing against its bid to see the same law extended to the Province.
Reacting to the Government’s submission, Gavin Boyd, policy manager of gay rights group The Rainbow Project said: “Not six months ago, at a reception in Downing Street, Prime Minister David Cameron said that he wanted to ‘export gay marriage to the world’ but he hasn’t even secured that the freedom to marry can be enjoyed throughout the UK.
“The prime minister has claimed that passing same-sex marriage legislation was one of the ‘proudest’ achievements of his premiership but is content for UK citizens to have their marriages reclassified when they enter Northern Ireland ... The sheer scale of this hypocrisy is breathtaking and entirely unreasonable.”
The High Court was yesterday told that a gay couple’s marriage has been wrongly “downgraded” to civil partnership status in their native Northern Ireland.
Counsel for the two men insisted the situation interferes with their human rights.
As judgment in the case was reserved, Karen Quinlivan QC said her clients have been left struggling to explain the lack of legal recognition to others.
The two men claim that being limited to civil partnership status within Northern Ireland amounts to unlawful discrimination.
They are seeking a landmark declaration that their marriage remains fully constituted throughout the UK.
Granted anonymity in the case, the petitioner ‘X’ and his husband wed in London last year.
But under current laws they can only be classified as civil partners in Northern Ireland.
Legislation passed in the rest of the UK and the Irish Republic allows same-sex couples to marry.
Last month Stormont voted in favour of the same change in law for the first time.
However, the DUP blocked it by deploying a mechanism requiring the proposal to achieve a cross-community majority.
The petition, backed by The Rainbow Project, has been taken against the Northern Ireland Assembly and the UK Government.
Rights to privacy and family life, religious freedom and entitlement to marry under the European Convention on Human Rights have all been interfered with, according to the couple.
Ms Quinlivan argued that their case differs from a separate legal bid to have the same-sex marriage laws extended to Northern Ireland.
“Where the petitioner is validly married under the terms of the legislation and his marriage is recognised as such in England, Wales and Scotland, but his status for the purpose of Northern Ireland law is downgraded by the same legislation to a civil partnership, that amounts to an interference,” she said.
X and his husband were able to wed in England following the introduction of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013.
But counsel for UK’s Government Equality Office (GEO) argued that there was never intended to be a “one size fits all” approach to the issue across the regions.
David Scoffield QC told the court that the ability for gay couples to get married in England and Wales was introduced as a matter of policy rather than a legal obligation.
Even if Westminster was to legislate on the issue the devolved Northern Ireland administration could reverse it.
At that theoretical stage, according to Mr Scoffield, the UK Government could stop Stormont from taking any further steps.
“It could deprive the Assembly of that legislative competence by altering the constitutional arrangements,” he suggested.
“When one gets to that point there is the potential for constitutional crisis at some level, the intensity of that being difficult to predict dependent on the sensitivity of the issue and the prevailing political circumstances.”
Following four days of legal argument Mr Justice O’Hara confirmed he was reserving his decision in the case.