Northern Ireland’s High Court has dismissed two cases challenging the nation’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying the ban does not violate the rights of same-sex couples and that any change must be made legislatively.
“It is not at all difficult to understand how gay men and lesbians who have suffered discrimination, rejection and exclusion feel so strongly about the maintenance in Northern Ireland of the barrier to same-sex marriage,” High Court Justice John O’Hara said in announcing his verdict Thursday, according to the U.K.’s Independent. But the barrier is not one he can bring down, he said.
“The judgment which I have to reach is not based on social policy but on the law,” O’Hara said. Any changes to the law must be made by the Northern Ireland Assembly, the nation’s national legislative body. Northern Ireland is the only portion of the United Kingdom without marriage equality, lagging behind England, Wales, and Scotland.
O’Hara heard two similar cases together. One was brought by two men who married in England in 2014 but saw their union changed to a civil partnership when they moved to Northern Ireland. They sued to have it recognized as a marriage. The other involved two couples in civil partnerships who said the denial of marriage equality violates their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Northern Ireland has offered civil partnerships, conferring some of the rights of marriage, since 2005.
There have been five attempts to pass marriage equality legislation in Northern Ireland, all blocked by the conservative Democratic Unionist Party, the Independent notes. Party leader Arlene Foster has vowed to continue resistance. “I could not care less what people get up to in terms of their sexuality, that’s not a matter for me — when it becomes a matter for me is when people try to redefine marriage,” she said earlier this year, according to the paper.