By Amber Kane
History was made as the first same sex marriage took place yesterday in Northern Ireland, a moment some feared would never come.
Robyn Peoples and Sharni Edwards celebrated their marriage on Tuesday after meeting five years ago in Belfast.
They had originally booked to have a civil partnership ceremony before legislation that would allow them to register to legally wed was passed in summer 2019.
Same sex marriages have been legal in Scotland, England and Wales since 2014, but for Northern Ireland it has been a long road on the campaign to equality.
In July 2019, Westminster MP’s backed amendments that would support laws to extend the legalisation of same sex marriage to Northern Ireland.
It was a historic day for the country, as same sex couples were then able to register to marry from January 2020.
Amnesty International is an organisation which has been a strong force in the equality campaign from its inception.
Patrick Corrigan, Head of Nations and Regions at Amnesty International, said: “It’s been a long campaign, we came together in a coalition five years ago now.
“We had already seen England, Wales and Scotland introduce marriage equality legislation without too many difficulties, so I suppose there is a sense of frustration that we weren’t able to make progress here.
“Political opposition was able to stop something which we believed had popular support from the public.”
The road to legalising same sex marriage was not easy, it took a lot of protesting and campaigning from members of the LGBT community as well as supporters of the cause.
Patrick continued: “In the wake of the successful marriage reform referendum in the Republic of Ireland, we organised a large demonstration, march and rally in Belfast.
“It was estimated that 20,000 people took part in that and that was an absolutely stunning turn out for an issue that sometimes was seen as marginal and showed it was not only an issue for LGBT people but also for many others like their friends and family or people who just wanted equality.”
Yesterday’s marriage will be the first of many for the country now that equality has been put at the forefront of legislation.
Patrick added: “The LGBT community have won a very notable battle for equal recognition, it was a very long and hard campaign, but I think because of that the success of the campaign is all the sweeter.
“They had to fight and march for it year after year.”
Northern Ireland is behind the rest of the United Kingdom with its ability to advance with LGBT rights. Many believe the marriage ban was unlawful and discriminatory to people based on their sexual orientation, and it was these deep-rooted beliefs that resulted in such a long fight for equality.
However, there is still work left to be done for Amnesty International and like-minded organisations.
On this, Patrick confirms that there are still two main issues they must tackle and will be working with the government to overcome in the months ahead:
“One is making religious ceremonies available for same sex marriage, it is currently up for public consultation and we expect that to happen in April this year.
“The other is the conversion of civil partnerships into marriage.
“In the absence of marriage, same sex couples – some 1200 – have entered civil partnerships and many of those would wish to convert that to a full marriage, and that isn’t available to all yet but the government advises that this will be done by the summer, so those issues will be the final pieces of the puzzle to same sex marriage.”