A model has cleared the first stage in a High Court battle to have her forthcoming humanist marriage to an international footballer legally recognised.
Belfast woman Laura Lacole is due to wed Leeds United and Republic of Ireland midfielder Eunan O’Kane at a venue in Northern Ireland next month.
She is challenging the General Register Office for refusing to officially authorise the ceremony due to be conducted by a British Humanist Association celebrant.
Her action is also directed at Stormont’s Department of Finance’s alleged failure to introduce legislation allowing the couple to have a legally recognised and binding wedding occasion.
Ms Lacole’s lawyers claim that she is being discriminated against under European laws protecting freedom of belief.
Granting the model and public speaker leave to seek a judicial review at the High Court in Belfast, Mr Justice Colton said: “It seems to me this is an arguable case and an important matter of public interest has been raised.”
Proceedings will now advance to a full hearing later this month.
Ms Lacole, 27, and Mr O’Kane, 26, both described themselves as humanists - a non-religious combination of attitudes and beliefs centred on human experience and welfare.
Humanist marriages are currently legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.
Under current legislation in Northern Ireland a couple wanting such a ceremony must also have a separate civil registration for their marriage to be recognised in law.
Outside court Ms Lacole said she and her football star fiance had decided to go public about their relationship and imminent marriage because of the importance of the issue.
The model, who is also vice-chair of Atheist NI, said: “We want to get married in a ceremony which embraces our values, who we are as individuals and how we see life, just in the same way as any religious person would want to be married in a ceremony reflective of their beliefs.
“There is discrimination - why would it be any different for myself and Eunan and what we believe.”
She added: “It’s important for us to do this for ourselves and other people who have the same beliefs. I’m relieved that the gravitas of the case for us was understood.”
Her solicitor, Ciaran Moynagh, insisted the State should not treat the couple’s deeply held beliefs any differently to those with religious views.
Mr Moynagh, of McLernon Moynagh law firm, said: “I’m delighted that Laura and Eunan are one step closer to being able to have the marriage ceremony they really want, and that it is in accordance with their humanist beliefs.”
Ms Lacole’s legal challenge has been backed by the British Humanist Association.
The charity’s chief executive, Andrew Copson, said: “Humanist weddings are incredibly popular right across the UK and Ireland, and this is especially true where they are given legal recognition.
“UK laws should treat everyone equally, regardless of religion or belief, and so given the recognition given to religious marriages, it is past time that the same recognition is extended to humanist ones.
“We will be supporting Laura and Eunan throughout the case and wish them all the best in their wedding plans.”
Boyd Sleator, Development Officer for Northern Ireland Humanists, added: “We are happy for Eunan and Laura to be given a chance to have a court hear that their beliefs are as important as any other when it comes to their marriage.
“Hopefully we will see equality prevail and humanist marriage recognised.” ends