Northern Ireland news

Humanist wedding can go ahead on Thursday, High Court rules

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

A GLAMOUR model and international footballer can go ahead with their humanist marriage later this week, the Court of Appeal has directed.

Senior judges gave interim authority for Laura Lacole and Republic of Ireland midfielder Eunan O'Kane to have a legally recognised wedding conducted by a humanist celebrant.

But they have still to decide on a bid to overturn a ruling that the couple faced discrimination based on their beliefs.

Appeals being mounted by Attorney General John Larkin QC and the Department of Finance were adjourned until September.

The marriage between Ms Lacole and Mr O'Kane can now be celebrated by the British Humanist Association's (BHA) head of ceremonies at a Co Antrim venue on Thursday.

Outside court Ms Lacole's solicitor, Ciaran Moynagh, said: "This is a good result for Laura and Eunan, and a first for Northern Ireland."

Under current law a couple seeking such a wedding must also have a separate civil registration for it to be officially acknowledged.

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

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

A judge held Ms Lacole was denied equal treatment to that given to religious couples and granted temporary authorisation for the humanist wedding to go ahead.

But just days before the event, 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.

"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 vice-chair of Atheist NI, claims she is being discriminated against under the European Convention on Human Rights.

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.

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

Adjourning the appeal until after the summer recess, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan directed the local registration authority to appoint BHA celebrant Isobel Russo to solemnise the wedding.

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