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Photography Eilish McCormick

Same-sex marriage just officially became legal in Northern Ireland

From today, couples can legally register to marry

It’s official: as of today, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland can register to get married, with the first couples able to actually walk down the aisle from February. 

The road to get here wasn’t a quick or easy one. After Stormont – the Northern Irish parliament – collapsed in 2017, Northern Irish marriage campaigners turned their focus onto Westminster. Conor McGinn, a Labour MP, pushed an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, which said that the government had to legislate for same-sex marriage, and in July 2019, same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland went to the vote in the House of Commons. It was passed by a landslide margin of 383 votes to 73. 

On the proviso that Stormont hadn’t reformed by October, the framework for same-sex marriage and abortion would then start to be put in place. October 21 came around, and devolution was not restored, meaning that campaigners across Northern Ireland and beyond could celebrate the end of draconian laws banning same-sex marriage and abortion. Almost six years after same-sex marriage was legalised in England and Wales, it would now officially be possible to marry in Northern Ireland too. 

Because it takes around 28 days to register for marriage, the first couples are expected to actually have their weddings around Valentine’s Day. 

Conor McGinn told BBC News NI: “Everyone who values equality, love and respect can celebrate today. 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.”

Couples in a civil partnership in Northern Ireland will not be able to convert it to a marriage yet, and later this year, The Northern Ireland Office will hold a consultation on the role of churches in same-sex marriages. However, as of today, heterosexual couples will also be able to enter into civil partnerships in NI.