Same-sex marriage is now legal in Northern Ireland, after a deadline set by the UK Parliament Westminster in July 2019 passed without the province forming a government.

Prior to January 13, same-sex marriages that occurred outside of Northern Ireland were not recognized, nor could same-sex couples receive a marriage certificate. Now, both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are able to enter a civil partnership, something that was previously only available to opposite-sex couples.

Presently, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland who have established a civil partnership will not be able to change that designation to a marriage, although this may happen in the future. The Northern Ireland Office in Westminster will also look into the role, if any, churches will have to play in same-sex marriages.

Northern Ireland’s devolved government, known as the Stormont Assembly, was suspended in January 2017, and was reconstituted on January 11, 2020, but too late to prevent the new law coming in to force.

During the time the government was suspended, members of parliament in Westminster moved to introduce legislation that would automatically make both abortion and same-sex marriage legal in the province if the devolved assembly was not reconvened by October 21, 2019.

Although part of the United Kingdom, abortion and same-sex marriage had never been legal in Northern Ireland until this time. The Stormont Assembly opted not to recognize same-sex marriages in 2014, when the remainder of the United Kingdom legalized the practice.

The Republic of Ireland voted to legalize same-sex marriage in May 2015. That vote did not apply to the six counties that compose Northern Ireland.

Law in Northern Ireland requires that married couples state their intent to marry four weeks--28 days--before the marriage can occur. This means that the first legal same-sex wedding in Northern Ireland will likely happen the second week of February.

The new laws brought to Northern Ireland without the direct input of Northern Irish lawmakers have proved to be controversial.

Carla Lockhart, a Member of Parliament for a Northern Irish constituency, urged the House of Commons last Wednesday that the Westminster law dealing with abortion provision in the region be repealed so that the local government can legislate on the topic.

“I want today to make the point to this House, on behalf of the many thousands of people across Northern Ireland who take a pro-life stance, that we want to repeal section 9 with immediate effect and allow for the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate, discuss and evidence-gather on this emotive issue,” Lockhart said Jan. 8 during her maiden speech in the House.