Northern Ireland news

First same-sex couple to marry in Northern Ireland hail 'wonderful day'

Amanda McGurk (left) and Cara McCann outside Belfast City Hall after becoming the first couple in Belfast to convert their civil partnership into a marriage. From today same-sex couples across Northern Ireland are able to marry through the official conversion of existing civil partnerships following a change in the law. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire 
Michael McHugh, PA

Northern Ireland's first same-sex couple to transform their civil partnership into a marriage have said it is a wonderful day.

Cara McCann and Amanda McGurk celebrated on the steps of Belfast City Hall.

Couples in more than 1,300 same-sex civil partnerships can tie the knot in Northern Ireland from today.

Ms McCann said: "We fought long and hard for the right to marry."

She added: "We want to thank everyone who was part of this great movement for love and equality, and which has delivered this wonderful, positive change for our society."

It followed a lengthy campaign and legislative change at Westminster while Stormont powersharing was suspended.

Amanda McGurk (left) and Cara McCann outside Belfast City Hall after becoming the first couple in Belfast to convert their civil partnership into a marriage. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire 

Stormont finance minister Conor Murphy said 32 couples planned to convert their civil partnerships this week.

Northern Ireland's largest party, the DUP, is opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds, arguing that marriage is between a man and a woman and that civil partnerships were already available to same-sex couples.

The issue was one of the sticking points preventing reformation of the collapsed powersharing Executive at Stormont for several years.

In its absence, Parliament forced British government ministers to introduce the change.

The first same-sex marriages took place earlier this year after the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act mandating the change passed into law.

Couples who had already sought a civil partnership were originally excluded from the reforms.

Ms McCann said she and Ms McGurk had been part of the Love Equality campaign for many years.

"It is just surreal that this day has come and we feel so much more equal and valued today once we received our marriage certificate," she said.

"Marriage is universal, everyone across the globe knows what a marriage is.

"We grew up not saying, 'I cannot wait to get a civil partnership', we grew up saying, 'I cannot wait to get married'."

She said their campaign had been a positive one from the outset, encouraging conversations around and greater visibility of LGBTQ+ issues.

"This is the final piece in the jigsaw of the marriage equality campaign and I think Northern Ireland is definitely a different place today," she added.

Ms McGurk said it was an "absolutely wonderful" occasion.

"I do not think we ever thought this day was going to come in our time," she added.

"We have been campaigning and hoping for this day for many, many years and are delighted to be the first."

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