Same-sex marriage in the UK and Ireland

Same-sex marriage in the UK and Ireland by Gavin Boyd, Policy and Advocacy Manager of The Rainbow Project.

The cause of marriage equality for same-sex couples has been growing globally for a number of years with many European and Latin American countries moving quickly to legislate and with legislation and strategic litigation furthering the cause in the United States. The passing of same-sex marriage legislation in England, Scotland and Wales coupled with the passing of the marriage referendum in the Republic of Ireland has left Northern Ireland as the only region within the UK or Ireland which neither conducts nor recognises same-sex marriages.

These legislative changes which are happening around the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland have led to an increase in speculation as to how or when equal marriage can be introduced. In light of the successful marriage referendum in the Republic of Ireland, many activists and politicians have intimated that a similar campaign could introduce equal marriage in Northern Ireland.

It is, however, important to remember that the referendum in the Republic was used because it was the only way to introduce equal marriage. Had the responsibility to introduce fallen to Dail Eireann, equal marriage would have already been introduced because all of the main political parties supported its introduction. However, the understanding of the government and its legal advisors was that the constitution of the Republic would have to be amended to allow for same-sex marriage and only a national plebiscite or referendum could amend the constitution in this way.

As UK has no written constitution there is not the same tradition of referenda to amend or create laws. In the UK, Parliament is sovereign and referenda are not legally binding. Although referenda may indicate public support for an issue, Parliament still has the authority to give effect to the will of the public or legislate in another way. The Rainbow Project believes that a referendum is not the solution to marriage inequalities in Northern Ireland. We know that there would not be the same consensus among political parties as there was in the Republic, likely leading to a more divisive and contentious campaign, without a certain outcome, which would still have to be voted on by the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the Northern Ireland Assembly has now failed four times to introduce marriage equality, we see no reason that a referendum result would compel those members, who are intractably opposed to its introduction, to vote for a marriage equality bill, even if it was supported by the public.

Due to the barriers which exist to a legislative solution to marriage for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland, The Rainbow Project has turned to strategic litigation.  When same-sex marriage became lawful in England and Wales in March 2014, we understood that although couples from Northern Ireland could legally marry in England or Wales, they would only be recognised as civil partners when they returned to Northern Ireland. To us, this creates an anomalous situation where someone has their relationship reclassified against their will when they move to another part of the same state i.e. the United Kingdom. We are of the opinion, that if someone is married in the UK, then they are married everywhere within the UK and that any attempt to reclassify their relationship is an unlawful invasion of their rights to privacy, family life and marriage.

To this end, we are now supporting a couple who were lawfully married in England in 2014 who are seeking to have their marriage recognised in Northern Ireland. We are asking the family court to make a declaration of marriage; essentially stating that their marriage was lawfully conducted and that their marriage remains lawful in Northern Ireland. The role of The Rainbow Project in this test case is to source and support the clients. Our external solicitor had prepared the papers, sought counsel, and engaged with PILS to secure funding for the challenge.

Our clients wanted to be married, they did not want to enter a civil partnership. Had they wanted a civil partnership, they could have entered into one in Northern Ireland. The best option for them was to get married in England, as many people from Northern Ireland do.  When they came back to Northern Ireland their relationship was downgraded to a civil partnership. We do not think that this is reasonable. We do not feel that this achieves any kind of legitimate state interest and we strongly feel that there is a public interest in ensuring that a person’s marriage is recognised everywhere within the state they live and cannot be reclassified without their consent.

We are not, at this stage, asking the court to declare that same-sex couples may marry in Northern Ireland, but simply to state that if someone is married they must be recognised as married. The referendum result in the Republic makes the need for recognition of marriages even more urgent. We could now have a situation where a married couple who live in Derry/Londonderry are not recognised as married at home but if one partner travels across the border to work in Donegal, they are recognised as married but the partner who remains in Northern Ireland is not recognised as married. This is a truly unreasonable position for any government to hold and deliberately devalues a same-sex relationship comparative to an opposite-sex relationship without providing any evidence as to why they should be treated differently.

It is important to note that recognition of marriages is only one part of the puzzle, the second is to ensure that same-sex marriages can be conducted in Northern Ireland. However, we believe that the most strategic outcome is to secure recognition of marriages in Northern Ireland and then either allow the Assembly to legislate for marriages to be conducted in Northern Ireland or challenge the failure of the government to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

As our recent rally for marriage equality in Belfast City Centre, with our partners Amnesty International and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, demonstrated there is enormous public support for the introduction of marriage equality in Northern Ireland.  Thousands of people attended to make their voices heard.   If legislative or referendum solutions are not practical to achieving this, then the public interest is best served by strategic litigation.


Reprinted 11th Edition: 22nd June 2015

Politics – What’s on your conscience?

In December 2014 Paul Givan MLA launched a consultation for his proposed ‘Conscience Clause’. If introduced this would allow businesses to refuse service to same couples, based only on religious belief against what is referred to as promoting same sex relationships. This would mean that a restaurant  or B&B could refuse service to a same sex couple or a landlord could refuse a tenancy to a same sex couple and their family.


Join the campaign against the Conscience Clause. Simply just print out the attached speech bubble or draw your own and tell us ‘what is on your conscience’. Whether it is a story or message to inspire others or simply just a limerick we want to hear your thoughts. For some inspiration check out the images above! You can check out more by searching #noconscienceclause

You can also support the Riinbow Project’s  work by texting NOCC15 £3 to 70070 to donate £3, or NOCC15 £5 to donate £5 etc. Remember to tag us on Facebook and Twitter. Remember to use the #noconscienceclause

For more information on our campaign against the Conscience Clause please visit

Please forward throughout your networks and thanks for the support

Northern Ireland gay activists fight bill which could allow gay discrimination

The proposed ‘conscience clause’ would allow people to refuse goods or services to LGBTI people on the grounds of strongly-held religious beliefs
The proposed ‘conscience clause’ would allow people to refuse goods or services to LGBTI people on the grounds of strongly-held religious beliefs

Image via Facebook/The-Rainbow-Project

LGBTI activists are rallying against a new bill proposal which they fear could legitimise anti-gay discrimination in Northern Ireland.

The proposed ‘conscience clause’ is a measure which could allow people to refuse goods or services to gay and lesbian people on the ground of their strongly-held religious beliefs.

An example of this would be the Belfast bakery which refused to bake a gay Bert and Ernie cake. Activists fear if the proposed ‘conscience clause’ was made law, then it would legitimise discriminatory behaviour such as this.

The Private Members’ Bill has been proposed by Paul Givan, a Democratic Unionist Party member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and has been backed by party leader and First Minister, Peter Robinson.

John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project which is a pro-LGBT rights group based in Northern Ireland, hit out against the bill.

‘Mr Givan claims that his bill will allow believers to deny goods and services to LGB people when it ‘promotes or facilitates same sex relations’. Let us explain to Mr Givan what this means,’ said O’Doherty.

‘Restaurants could deny same sex couples a table as this could be facilitating same sex relations. A mortgage provider could deny a mortgage to a same sex couple as it would be facilitating same-sex relations. Hoteliers could deny a room to a same sex couple as it would be facilitating same-sex relations.

‘The examples are countless. Mr Givan clearly has not considered the implications of his license to discriminate legislation. Ensuring LGB people can access goods and services without discrimination is good for business, good for the economy and good for Northern Ireland’s reputation with investors.’

In addition to the Rainbow Project, Amnesty International has also criticized the proposal.

‘What is proposed is not a conscience clause, it is a discrimination clause,’ said Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director.

‘This is not about freedom of religion; this is about treating a section of our population as second-class citizens.

‘This change to the law is not welcome and it is not needed. The law already strikes a fair balance between the human right to freedom of religion and the human right not to suffer discrimination.

‘Northern Ireland’s First Minister should concentrate on eradicating inequalities already faced by members of the LGBTI community here, rather than lending his support to a discriminatory new law.

‘He could start by publishing Stormont’s long overdue sexual orientation strategy, which could help tackle homophobia in Northern Ireland society.’

#NoConscienceClause has already begun trending on social media, facilitated by The Rainbow Project.

Today at 3pm (31 January), there is a planned protest against the bill at Belfast City Hall. There will also be partner protests in Derry-Londonderry and Newry.

Stephen Fry has signed a petition arguing for the dismissal of the bill.

– See more at:

LGBT Remembrance at Belfast Cenotaph

Those who gathered to remember past LGBT people persecuted for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Photo: Simon Rea.

Those who gathered to remember past LGBT people persecuted for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Photo: Simon Rea.

This morning about ten to eleven, a number of members of the LGBT community from the city of Belfast gathered to stand in solidarity and remembrance for all those in Germany, and all nations who lost their lives or were imprisoned for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The short simple act of remembrance was instituted and organised in the past by PA MagLochlainn, who died about this time a year ago. This year, Andrew Smyth from Cara-Friend organised the event and we were pleased to support it.

We heard from a number of readings including an extract from The Men with the Pink Triangle by Heinz Heger which was read by John O’Doherty of The Rainbow Project.

The prisoners’ uniforms were marked with a coloured cloth triangle to denote their offence or origin.

Yellow for Jews, black for anti-socials, red for politicalise, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses, green for criminals, blue for emigrants, pink for homosexuals, brown for gypsies.

The pink triangle, however, was about 2 or 3 centimetres larger that the others, so that we could be clearly recognised from a distance. (from The Men with the Pink Triangle)

A wreath in the shape of a pink triangle was laid at the Cenotaph by Jeff Dudgeon and Andrew Smyth and we stood together in silence to remember those that suffered at the hands of the Nazis and all who have suffered persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

'The Laramie Project'

The Matthew Shepard Story

The Matthew Shepard Story

The story of Matthew Shepard
Location and Time:  Thursday 1st August 2012, the Metropolitan Arts Centre theatre; an intimate theatre of approximately 112 seats.

The play was ‘The Laramie Project’ which was written by Moses Kaufmann and members of the Tyectonic Theater Project, but our production was performed and orchestrated by the Dundonald Association of Music and Drama (DAMD) sponsored by the Police Service of N Ireland (PSNI) and The Rainbow Project.
The Laramie Project is a verbatim play about the reaction to the torture and murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998; The Angels during the rallyhe was a young gay man who was robbed, viciously beaten and left tied to a fence to die. Although he was soon found by the police and hospitalized, he soon expired.  Matthew was a student in Laramie, Wyoming and this play is based on a series of interviews conducted with Laramie residents in the aftermath of his murder.  Matthew’s murder focused attention on the lack of hate crime legislation in various states including Wyoming.
DAMD were formed in July 2009 by Melissa Smith.  DAMD’s artistic mission is to engage their community in theatre that makes you think or blink with tears).  ‘If we can inspire, nurture, challenge, amaze, educate or empower artists and audiences b y providing a quality performing arts experience then we retire happily with our bedtime cocoa.’

The stage setting consisted of eight chairs with a ‘goodies’ box beside each containing various individual props, and a stand for the presenter who guided us through the performance.
The performance was riveting, and it indeed did bring this audience member to tears as he remembered the harrowing news items from the time, and how utterly soul destroying the story was as it unfolded, including the trial.  The subsequent theatre production and also the movie release with of the Laramie Project and also the Matthew Shepard Story with Sam Waterston as the father of Matthew kept the story alive and in people minds, and continued to pile pressure on the USA legislature and government and local states.
DAMD’s performance was startling real, the accents were faultless ( at least to my ears), and the minimlist stage setting helped to focus attention on the dialogue, the speakers and the story.
The Laramie Project is often used as a method to teach about prejudice and tolerance in personal, social, and health education and citizenship in schools, and it has also been used in the UK as a General Certificate of Secondary Education text for English literature.  Having just been to an event during Belfast Pride about how our N Ireland Library Service for Schools is currently unable to provide the service needed for LGBT youth, and that a survey of LGBT books in school libraries only returned one item throughout Northern Ireland, it would seem that we need to put on more productions of this play, and especially try to get it seen within our school and college systems.


Further links:

  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”” blank=”true”]The Laramie Project[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”″ blank=”true”]The Laramie Project (film)[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”” blank=”true”]The Matthew Shepard Story[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”camera” url=”″ blank=”true”]Youtube: The Matthew Shepard Story [/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”camera” url=”Youtube:” blank=”true”]The Laramie Project[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”” blank=”true” colour=”green”]The Laramie Project Website & Charity[/button_icon]