The Finance Minister Conor Murphy has announced reforms of marriage law in Northern Ireland.
It comes after a public consultation sought views on changing two aspects of the legislation to include non-religious belief and on raising the minimum age at at which people can legally marry or enter into a civil partnership from 16 to 18.
An Alliance MLA welcomed the move saying it reflected changing attitudes in society.
Speaking about the potential change, Conor Murphy said: “I would like to thank all the organisations and individuals who responded positively to my department’s consultation. “A clear majority supported the proposal to put belief marriage on an equal footing with religious marriage. “Support for increasing the minimum age for marriage and civil partnership to 18 years was close to unanimous, with 97% of online respondents in support of the change.” The minister added: “Consultation responses therefore suggest strong support for including belief marriage in the marriage law on the same basis as religious marriage, and for increasing the minimum age for marriage/civil partnership to 18 years. “My department will now begin work that will allow for the preparation of legislation to enable belief marriage and raise the minimum age for marriage to 18. It will only be possible to bring forward and enact this legislation once there is a functioning Assembly and Executive.”
Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong welcomed the move. “I am delighted these impending changes have been announced, particularly to ensure non-religious marriages are treated equally in law to faith marriages,” she said. “The public consultation on the matter showed a clear majority in favour of these reforms. While there have been temporary arrangements in place, once the Assembly returns they can be made permanent. “Northern Ireland is a changing society and this move reflects that. Everybody does not fit into a specific definition, rather instead being part of the wealth of diversity across our community. It’s time everyone respected people of other beliefs in law.”