Judgment reserved on NI couple’s gay marriage legal fight

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Judgment has been reserved in a gay couple’s legal fight to have their same-sex marriage recognised in Northern Ireland.

Lawyers for the two men claim downgrading their wedding to civil partnership status amounts to unlawful discrimination.

A panel of three appeal judges, led by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, pledged to deliver a verdict in the case as soon as possible.

Granted anonymity in the proceedings, the petitioner ‘X’ and his husband wed in London in 2014.

The couple are attempting to secure a declaration that their marriage remains fully constituted throughout the United Kingdom.

But under current laws they can only be classified as civil partners in their native Northern Ireland, an alleged reduction in relationship status which violates their human rights.

In August last year a High Court judge dismissed the case after identifying no breach under European law.

He held that it was up to government and parliament to provide same-sex marriage rights, not the judiciary.

But Petitioner X is now attempting to have that verdict overturned at the Court of Appeal in Belfast.

His lawyers stressed the case was about the right to equal recognition of an existing marriage performed in the UK under the law of Northern Ireland, and the related entitlement to remain married throughout the UK.

Counsel for X argued that any heterosexual couples who wed in England remain married if they move to Northern Ireland.

The current situation facing her client is “derogatory and undermines his marriage”, she contended.

Explaining his status to people at work has caused him stress and uncertainty, the court heard.

The petition, backed by gay rights group The Rainbow Project, was taken against the Northern Ireland Assembly and the UK government.

Legislation passed in the rest of the the UK and the Irish Republic allows same-sex couples to marry.

However, Stormont has repeatedly refused to introduce the same change in the law.

Lawyers for X and his husband claimed their rights to privacy and family life, religious freedom and entitlement to marry under the European Convention on Human Rights have all been violated.

They insist their case differs from the separate legal bid to have the same-sex marriage laws extended to Northern Ireland.

Downgrading a marriage validly recognised in England, Wales and Scotland to civil partnership status in Northern Ireland amounts to an unlawful interference, it was argued.

But lawyers for UK’s government Equality Office (GEO) have countered that there was never intended to be a “one size fits all” approach to the issue across the regions.

A gay couple’s ability to get married in England and Wales was a matter of policy rather than a legal obligation, according to their case.