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Northern Ireland: A Valentine’s Day Not Like Any Other…

(Blogmensgo, gay blog of 15 February 2020) A lesbian couple has entered into the first first same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. On February 11, 2020, 26-year-old Robyn Peoples, a janitor from Belfast, married 27-year-old pizzeria employee Sharni Edwards from Brighton, England. The two young women, who have been together for six years, made their union the first LGBT wedding in Northern Ireland through a series of coincidences–- and they also used the most beautiful day of their lives for political and social activism, including for the Northern Ireland activist group “Love Equality”.

Here is a short statement of the two brides on their wedding day with BBC (in English with English subtitles):

First same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

The legalization of same-sex marriage was signed on 19 December 2019 and came into force on 13 January 2020. However, wedding banns in Ireland are twenty-eight days, and so the first LGBT wedding could not take place until the twenty-ninth day. As a result, Robyn and Sharni were allowed to get married on 11 February in a luxury hotel in Carrickfergus, a small town in Antrim County in the north-east of Northern Ireland.

But why were they the first homosexual couple to get married in Northern Ireland? Just by a calendar coincidence. They first met on February 11, six years ago. They initially wanted to celebrate this anniversary with a registered partnership. Instead, they decided to get married when they learned that their desired date was actually the first day of the opening of marriage to all couples. So instead of having a civil union, they got married right away.

When Sharni Edwards left England to work in Northern Ireland, she was convinced that same-sex marriage was as legal there as at home. It was only after two years of living together, when the young women were about to get engaged on a trip abroad, that Sharni understood the anachronistic backwardness of the Northern Ireland province in terms of marriage and LGBT rights. Northern Ireland did not decriminalize homosexuality until 1982 and has only offered the possibility of a registered partnership since the end of 2005. Since the end of 2019, heterosexual couples in Northern Ireland have also been allowed to enter into a civil partnership.

In any case: Robyn Peoples and Sharni Edwards could experience a wonderful Valentine’s Day on February 14th, not in Northern Ireland or England, but in Cyprus – where, however, gay marriage is still illegal.

Here is a long interview with Robyn and Sharni shortly before their wedding.

On 11 February 2020, Amnesty International and the “Love Equality” interest group jointly held a ceremony in London. It was a celebration of the entry into force of gay marriage in Northern Ireland (with the participation of Julian Smith, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland) and to honor the memory of the author Lyra McKee, who was killed during a demonstration in Londonderry in April 2019. Her partner Sara Canning attended the ceremony, because without this murder, Lyra and Sara would probably have been married on the first day in Northern Ireland as well.

Robyn and Sharni had gone to Belfast the week before their wedding to view a mural in honor of Lyra McKee. The two brides thanked LGBT activist groups and political circles several times.

What remains to be done

Why didn’t Robyn and Sharni have a religious wedding? Because legalization of gay marriage in Northern Ireland currently only applies to civil marriages. The British government is conducting consultations on religious marriages and the conversion of registered partnerships into marriages until 23 February 2020. These consultations could lead to a number of changes around April 2020, the nature and scope of which remains to be seen.

Future amendments must also provide for possible sanctions or exceptions for cases of discrimination in connection with same-sex marriages. Will registrars be allowed to evade their responsibilities? Will religious bodies be able to simply refuse the wedding of two men or two women? Will shopkeepers be allowed to refuse their services to LGBT couples on religious grounds? All this is still open at present.

Finally, here is a report from ITV about Sharni and Robyn’s wedding, the political context and the LGBT activism that made it possible to experience this historic day and beautiful love marriage in Northern Ireland.

A political subject seems to play a certain role in future discussions and regulations. In Northern Ireland, the political landscape is divided between those in favor of staying in the UK, such as the Democratic Unionists (DUP, predominantly Protestant), and those in favor of independence from the UK (Sinn Féin, predominantly Catholic), with two other parties (Alliance and Greens) likely to tip the scales.

In recent years, the DUP had always been able to veto legalization of gay marriage, while Sinn Féin began to use this as a campaign argument. This is logical because Sinn Féin wants Northern Ireland to be reunited with the Republic of Ireland, which legalized gay marriage by a large majority in a referendum in 2015.

Frank-S / MensGo

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