Northern Ireland

Humanist marriage: Judges permits legally-recognised wedding

Laura Lacole Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Laura Lacole is vice-chair of the organisation, Atheist NI

A couple can go ahead with their humanist marriage later this week, the NI Court of Appeal has directed.

Senior judges gave interim authority for Laura Lacole and Eunan O'Kane to have a legally-recognised wedding conducted by a celebrant of choice.

But they have yet to decide on a bid to overturn a ruling that the couple faced discrimination based on their belief.

Appeals by Attorney General John Larkin QC and a Stormont Department were adjourned till September.

It means Humanists UK's head of ceremonies can solemnise the Belfast woman's marriage to the Republic of Ireland midfielder at a location in County Antrim on Thursday.

Outside court, Ms Lacole's solicitor said: "This is a good result for Laura and Eunan, and a first for Northern Ireland."

On 9 June, she won legal recognition for her humanist marriage, following a landmark legal battle.

Until now, humanist weddings were not recognised by law in Northern Ireland, so couples were also required to have a separate civil marriage ceremony.

The same situation applies in England and Wales, but not in Scotland, or the Republic of Ireland.

However, the judge ruled that this unlawfully denied them equality with religious couples.

He ordered the granting of temporary authorisation for a Humanists UK celebrant to perform a legally valid and binding wedding ceremony.

Image caption Mr Larkin said the case was too significant to rush

But Northern Ireland's attorney general and its Department of Finance are both seeking to reverse the High Court judge's ruling.

Mr Larkin has backed submissions on behalf of the Stormont department that the case was too significant to rush.

"It's a hugely important issue which has all kinds of ramifications," Mr Larkin told the court sitting in Belfast on Monday.

He argued that no breach of the European Convention on Human Rights had occurred in a case where the 2003 Marriage Order includes provisions for the solemnisation of civil marriage.

He said this should satisfy all that the couple hopes for in their ceremony.

"This case is evidentially undercooked in indicating the gap between what is potentially on offer and what they are trying to get," he said.

Ms Lacole, who is also vice-chair of Atheist NI, claims she is being discriminated against under the convention's protection for freedom of belief.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Laura Lacole is marrying Leeds United's Eunan O'Kane

She issued judicial review proceedings against the General Register Office (GRO) for not authorising the marriage.

Her action was also directed at Stormont's alleged failure to introduce legislation to allow a legally binding wedding event.

A barrister for the department contended that any interference with Ms Lacole's rights was minimal and justified.

He said that the legislature should be given a chance to explore the complexities involved.

"This is not an area where our assembly has yet been asked to express a view, there isn't even a policy," Mr McGleenan said.

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