Humanist's fight for legal recognition of her wedding is 'evidentially undercooked, Attorney General says

Glamour model Laura Lacole and Republic of Ireland footballer Eunan O'Kane leaving the High Court at an earlier hearing. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.

A MODEL'S fight for legal recognition of her humanist marriage to an international footballer is "evidentially undercooked", Northern Ireland's top law officer claimed today.

Attorney General John Larkin QC told the Court of Appeal that Laura Lacole will suffer no discrimination under current legislative arrangements.

Mr Larkin and a Stormont department are both seeking to overturn a ruling that Ms Lacole's belief was unlawfully denied equal treatment to that of religious couples.

The 27-year-old Belfast woman is due to wed Republic of Ireland midfielder Eunan O'Kane at a location in Northern Ireland later this week.

Under current law a couple who want a humanist ceremony must also have a separate civil registration for their marriage to be officially acknowledged.

The same situation applies in England and Wales, but not in Scotland or the Republic.

Attorney General John Larkin QC. Picture by Declan Roughan

Earlier this month Ms Lacole won a landmark High Court challenge against the refusal to grant the ceremony official status.

A judge held the marriage was a manifestation of Ms Lacole's beliefs, and that denying recognition amounted to discrimination under European law.

He ordered the granting of temporary authorisation for a British Humanist Association celebrant to perform a legally valid and binding wedding.

But just days before the event takes place, the Attorney General urged a panel of three appeal judges to reverse the verdict.

He backed submissions on behalf of the Department of Finance that the case was too significant to rush.

"It's a hugely important issue which has all kinds of ramifications," Mr Larkin submitted.

He argued that no breach of the European Convention on Human Rights had occurred in a case where the 2003 Marriage Order includes provisions for the solemnisation of civil marriage.

According to Mr Larkin this should satisfy all the celebrity couple hope for in their ceremony.

"This case is evidentially undercooked in indicating the gap between what is potentially on offer and what they are trying to get," he said.

Ms Lacole, who is also vice-chair of Atheist NI, claims she is being discriminated against under the Convention's protection for freedom of belief.

She issued judicial review proceedings against the General Register Office (GRO) for not authorising the marriage.

Her action was also directed at Stormont's alleged failure to introduce legislation to allow a legally binding wedding event.

Tony McGleenan QC, for the department, contended that any interference with Ms Lacole's rights was minimal and justified.

He added that the legislature should be given a chance to explore the complexities involved.

"This is not an area where our Assembly has yet been asked to express a view, there isn't even a policy," Mr McGleenan pointed out.

The appeal continues.

Laura Lacole and her partner Eunan O'Kane

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