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Northern Ireland news

Scottish government publishes Arlene Foster's letter on gay marriage

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds at Stormont Castle in Belfast earlier this month. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire
Brendan Hughes

THE Scottish government has published a letter it received from Arlene Foster about its laws surrounding gay marriage.

The correspondence, signed by the DUP leader, was sent in early September 2015 when she was finance minister in the Stormont executive.

It follows calls to publish the letter when its existence emerged after the Westminster election results sparked fresh criticism of the DUP's opposition to gay marriage.

Former Scottish minister Marco Biagi had claimed Mrs Foster wrote to him asking to curtail same-sex marriage access for Northern Ireland couples.

Mr Biagi said on Twitter: "I said no. Specifically this was couples with prior Northern Irish civil partnerships, who couldn't switch for marriages in NI (or England and Wales)."

He added: "England and Wales still only convert their own civil partnerships. Scotland converts anyone's."

However, speaking to BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme last week, Mrs Foster denied sending a letter.

"I'm not quite sure what he was referring to but it certainly wasn't a letter from me and I have no recollection of a letter from me," she said.

"If I had written to him officially as minister of finance or something like that around recognition laws here in Northern Ireland, I have no recollection of it. I certainly didn't write in a personal capacity."

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In her letter to Mr Biagi, Mrs Foster said she was "concerned" about Scottish government proposals.

She said "neither of us would wish to place same-sex couples in an uncertain legal position".

"In this instance, we can achieve legal certainty by restricting the definition of a 'qualifying civil partnership' so as to exclude civil partnerships which were entered into in Northern Ireland," she said.

Writing in response, Mr Biagi said he had considered the issues but concluded that it would "not be appropriate to exclude civil partnerships registered in Northern Ireland from the order".

Asked about the finance minister being involved in marriage issues, Stormont's finance department said it is responsible for some aspects of civil law.

A spokeswoman said: "The Department of Finance's civil law reform division is responsible for certain aspects of civil law reform, notably with regard to private family law, trusts and property law, tort, contract law and private international law."

Last week, the Scottish government had confirmed it had received a letter from Mrs Foster in 2015.

A spokesman said: "Under the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, couples in a civil partnership registered in Scotland can change their relationship to marriage.

"In 2015, a legislative change extended that so couples in a civil partnership registered outside Scotland could also change their civil partnership to a marriage.

"Correspondence to the Scottish government on this issue was received in September 2015 from Arlene Foster, in her capacity as a minister of the Northern Ireland Executive."

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