Same-sex marriage is now legal in Northern Ireland

Sophie Gallagher
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Same-sex marriage is now legal in Northern Ireland.

From Monday 13 January, same-sex couples will be able to register to marry in the country, and those who are already married will have their union recognised by law.

This brings Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK. Same-sex marriages have been legal in England, Scotland and Wales since 2014.

The first same-sex weddings are expected to take place in February as couples have to indicate their intention to marry 28 days before doing so.

The discrepancy was able to continue for six years because same-sex marriage was an issue devolved to Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Those who already have civil partnerships are not able to convert to a marriage at this stage in the process, although the Northern Ireland Office is set to begin a consultation later this year.

Today also marks the day that heterosexual couples are able to enter into civil partnerships, as happened in England and Wales in December 2019.

The change has come about as a result of campaigners turning their attention to Westminster, rather than Stormont.

A power-sharing coalition between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein collapsed at the Northern Irish assembly in January 2017, and three years of political deadlock in the country followed.

As a result, marriage equality campaigners in Northern Ireland began campaigning MPs in the Houses of Parliament instead.

In July 2019, MPs backed amendments which would require same-sex marriage to be extended to Northern Ireland if devolution was not restored by 21 October.

On Friday the UK and Irish governments published a draft deal to restore a devolved government in Northern Ireland. The move comes without the DUP or Sinn Fein having publicly signalled a willingness to agree to the terms of the deal.

Today Boris Johnson will meet first minister Arlene Foster of the DUP and Sinn Fein deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill.

The legalisation of same-sex marriage in other European countries has seen dramatic reduction in the number of suicides.

A study in Denmark and Sweden showed that there had been a fall of 46 per cent from 1989 to 2002, and 2003 to 2016.

“Being married is protective against suicide,” said Annette Erlangsen of the Danish Research Institute for Suicide Prevention. “Legalising same-sex marriage and other supportive legislative measures – they might actually reduce stigma around sexual minorities.”

Same-sex marriage was made legal in 2009 in Sweden and 2012 in Denmark. The unions are now legal in 27 countries, 16 of them in Europe. Ecuador became the latest nation to permit them, in June last year.

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