Hope shines through the despair as couples vow the fight for marriage equality in Northern Ireland will go on

Henry Edmond Kane and partner Christopher Patrick Flanagan on the way out of the Hight Court in Belfast with Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close Picture by Hugh Russell.

"I'VE got this here and we're here for the long haul," Chris Flanagan-Kane declared, producing a rainbow flag and brandishing it above his head.

Behind him stood the Royal Courts of Justice, its pale Portland Stone gleaming and implacable; where less than half-an-hour before Mr Justice John O'Hara dismissed his application calling for an end to the ban on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Laughter and cheers broke out among friends and supporters at Mr Flanagan-Kane's cheery gesture, a stark contrast to the grim atmosphere that had descended inside the courtroom as it became clear which way the judgment was moving.

"We're devastated," fellow applicant Grainne Close said.

"For us, this is a personal matter. We have families and our children are being treated differently because of today's result."

The day had started out with such hope for the cohort of applicants and their backers.

Heavy downpours and grey skies had given way to sunshine as Henry and Chris Flanagan-Kane and their co-applicants Ms Close and her partner Shannon Sickles entered Belfast's High Court, wreathed in smiles.

The sheer scale of support for them, and for the efforts of a third, anonymous couple behind Petition X, had caught the Northern Ireland Court Service on the hop.

The judgment was scheduled to be handed down at 2pm in a small family courtroom where the arguments in the cases had originally been heard.

However, by 9.30am, it had been moved to the Queen’s Bench 1, a main courtroom designed to accommodate jury trials.

But, by 1.55pm, it was clear that even this would not hold the number of people who had come to hear what they hoped would be a historic step forwards for gay rights in Northern Ireland.

A court official announced that the judgment was now to be handed down in Nisi Prius court, and within minutes its vast public gallery was filled to over-flowing.

Sunshine flooded through its glass ceiling, lighting up the splashes of rainbow brightness - turquoise hair here, a brilliant white shirt there, a silver jacket at the back - among the more sombre grey and black hues of traditional court attire.

They came to celebrate. They came in hope.

Mr Justice O'Hara entered quietly, his scarlet robes swapped for a sober dark suit and a muted paisley tie.

His voice soft, but clear, he delivered his first judgment, reading carefully from the 10 printed pages in front of him.

But, even as he laid out his careful consideration of the legal arguments for the Petition X case, outside the courtroom news of his judgment was spreading.

An administrative error saw the judgment published before it was delivered and it had been widely spread on social media before those in court - including legal counsel - had even an inkling that the application had been rejected.

Once the first case fell, there was a certain inevitability to the second rejection. The legal precedents, opinion on jurisdictional supremacy and judicial limitation ran across both.

Hope drained from the room and there was silence as everyone but the applicants and their legal team slowly filed out.

But, when they finally emerged, it was to applause. Northern Ireland's gay community have practice at regrouping quickly. Little has come to them at the first time of asking.

Cheers broke out again as Ms Sickles vowed to battle on to appeal, urging supporters to contribute to a fighting fund.

"We're not finished," she said.

"This is long term, (for) many years ahead to bring human rights to all citizens in Northern Ireland."

With that they walked away from the court and into the sunshine.

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