Same-sex marriage has been legal in the United Kingdom since 2014

By Joelle Goldstein
January 13, 2020 03:48 PM
Protesters in Northern Ireland

History has been made in Northern Ireland.

The province, which is part of the United Kingdom, voted to make same-sex marriage legal after a six-year battle between the British Parliament in Westminster and Stormont, the seat of Northern Ireland’s devolved legislative power, CNN reported.

With the monumental decision, Northern Ireland now joins the rest of the U.K. — including England, Scotland, and Wales — where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2014.

As of Monday, same-sex couples can register to marry, with the first ceremonies expected to take place in February, according to BBC News. Any couples who are already married will now be legally recognized in Northern Ireland, and heterosexual couples can enter civil partnerships, the outlet reported.

However, same-sex couples who are already in a civil partnership will not yet be able to convert it into a marriage just yet. Later this year the Northern Ireland Office will look into the process of conversion and what role churches will play in same-sex marriages, according to BBC News.

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Patrick Corrigan of human rights organization Amnesty International told the outlet that the legislation being passed was a “historic day for equality and human rights in Northern Ireland.”

“For too long, LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland have been treated as second-class citizens,” he told BBC News in a statement. “So, today is an incredible moment for same-sex couples who can finally marry and have their relationships recognized as equal.”

The decision was a long time coming, as back in 2013, the British parliament in Westminster voted by a large majority to legalize same-sex marriage, according to CNN.

Despite it being legal in most of the U.K., Northern Ireland’s parliament building, Stormont, voted against the legislation. Following their action, the Democratic Unionist Party reportedly tabled a “petition of concern” and challenged the decision.

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After a long delay, due in part to the Stormont assembly collapsing, the government recently got back on track to pass the legislation, according to BBC News.

In early October, the British Parliament passed legislation that would make both same-sex marriage and abortion legal on Jan. 13 should Stormont not be restored by the end of last October, CNN noted.

Ultimately, the deadline was missed and an amendment was made to the Northern Ireland Act 2019 by Labour MP Conor McGinn, confirming that the government must legislate for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, according to BBC News.

“It’s a good day for Northern Ireland, an important day for citizens’ rights across these islands and an exciting day for same-sex couples who can now register to marry,” McGinn told the outlet, adding that “everyone who values equality, love and respect can celebrate today.”