Couple in challenge to North’s same-sex marriage law

Attorney General John Larkin QC says issue ‘pure social policy’ for Stormont to decide on

Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland is for Stormont to decide on, Attorney General JohnLarkin QC has told the High Court.

Mr Larkin described same-sex marriage as an issue of “pure social policy” that should be left with the devolved administration. His assessment came in proceedings brought by a gay couple whose marriage has no legal recognition in Northern Ireland.

The two men claim that being limited to civil partnership status in their homeland amounts to unlawful discrimination. They are seeking a declaration that their marriage remains fully constituted throughout the UK.

Granted anonymity in the case, the petitioner ‘X’ and his husband married in London last year but can only be classified as civil partners in Northern Ireland.


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

Stormont recently voted in favour of the same change in law for the first time but the Democratic Unionists blocked it by deploying a mechanism requiring the proposal to achieve a cross-community majority.

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

In the first case of its kind, counsel for X and his husband claimed their marriage has been “demeaned, devalued and undermined” by the situation.

The ban breaches rights to privacy and family life, religious freedom and entitlement to marry under the European Convention on Human Rights, it was argued. X and his husband were able to wed in England following the introduction of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013.

Asked by Mr Justice O’Hara if the same same legal position should apply throughout the UK, Mr Larkin replied: “No, it’s a matter of pure social policy ... being a transferred matter it’s for the devolved administration and the Executive.”

The case continues.