Same-sex couples can apply to have religious weddings in Northern Ireland from today (1 September), with ceremonies set to begin later this month.
Gay weddings began in Northern Ireland in February, but so far couples have only been allowed to undergo civil weddings – with a further wait for regulations to be amended to allow religious weddings and for the conversion of existing civil partnerships into marriages.
From 1 September, however, couples in Northern Ireland can also register for a religious wedding ceremony, bringing the region in line with Scotland, England and Wales.
Religious bodies can also choose to opt in to provide same-sex weddings from Tuesday. With a statutory 28-day waiting period, the earliest date for a same-sex religious wedding will be 29 September.
Northern Ireland gay couples ‘can have the church wedding they have longed for’.
The reverend Chris Hudson, minister of All Souls Church in Belfast – a member of the Non-Subscribing Church of Ireland – welcomed the law change.
He said: “This is great news for couples who wish to celebrate their marriage in church, embraced by family, friends and the love of God.
“I have already been speaking to a number of couples who have been waiting for this day so they can finally have the church wedding that they have longed for.”
Patrick Corrigan of Love Equality said: “Today is a milestone for equality in Northern Ireland. After years of campaigning, same-sex couples of faith can finally register to marry in a church or other religious setting.
“In line with our campaign, we are pleased that the law will protect religious freedom, and that churches will neither be compelled nor prevented from offering wedding ceremonies to same-sex couples.
“This is an important issue for many couples in Northern Ireland, who have previously been prevented by law from marrying in their own church.”
Calls to ‘finish the job’ by permitting civil partnership conversions.
Corrigan added: “We now urge the government to finish the job of marriage equality in Northern Ireland, by allowing couples in civil partnerships to convert to married status if they so wish.”
Couples in the rest of the UK are already permitted to convert civil partnerships into marriages, but the Northern Ireland Office has been slow to bring in the measure – meaning the 1,200 couples who had already entered civil partnerships before the introduction of same-sex marriage are currently unable to marry.