Same-sex religious marriages will be allowed in Northern Ireland, the British government said on Thursday, bowing to pressure from LGBT+ campaigners after the first secular lesbian wedding in February.
Gay and lesbian couples in Northern Ireland will be able to have religious weddings from September, a British government spokeswoman said in an emailed statement, while converting civil partnerships to marriage will be possible by the end of 2020.
The British parliament voted in July 2019 to force Northern Ireland, which had been the only part of the United Kingdom without same-sex marriage since 2013, to change its laws.
"For the couples who were waiting to make plans for their future, they were left in a position of uncertainty and we've certainly moved forward a little step today," said Patrick Corrigan, the head of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland.
"In Northern Ireland, where a lot of people still are religious and church-going, it's a big deal for many couples."
Religious same-sex marriages are already allowed in England, Wales and Scotland.
When same-sex weddings began taking place in Northern Ireland in February, the government said regulations would follow to enable faith groups to opt into offering them and to convert civil partnerships to marriage.
Ahead of the decision, the first same-sex couple to marry in Northern Ireland when it became legal criticized the government for not introducing the regulations.
"We loved having our big day back in February surrounded by the people we love," Sharni Edwards-Peoples said in a statement released overnight by Amnesty International.
"But, by not laying the necessary regulations at parliament, the secretary of state is stopping many couples from being able to plan their own big day."
Cara McCann, who entered into a civil partnership with fellow LGBT+ activist Amanda McGurk on Valentine's Day 2019, urged the government to speed up the process to give about 1,200 couples the choice to convert their partnerships into marriages.
"It would mean absolutely everything, both on a personal and professional level," said McCann, the director of HERe NI, a charity that supports lesbian and bisexual women, for which McGurk also works.
"For many years we've been working on this issue in our professional life, but I think more personally we will be treated as equals," she said by phone. "At the minute we're not, we're second class."