The Department’s public consultation on the marriage law ran from 15 November 2021 to 18 February 2022 and considered legislative change with regard to two aspects of the current law on marriage and civil partnership—(i) the inclusion in the marriage law of belief marriage (marriage ceremonies for people who subscribe to non-religious belief systems such as humanism); and (ii) whether the minimum age for marriage and civil partnership—currently 16—should be increased to 18
Consultation attracted 78 responses—61 online and 17 conventional written responses. A majority of these (54) came from individuals. Organisations that responded included the Church of Ireland, the Catholic Church, and the Presbyterian Church, NI Humanists, the NI Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY), the NI Human Rights Commission (NIHRC). The Department also engaged directly with a number of stakeholders including the Rights and Equality Committee of the Youth Assembly.
With regard to belief marriage, a majority of online respondents (approximately 70%) and all respondents who mentioned the proposal in their written response supported changing the law to put belief marriage on an equal footing with religious marriage. Support for increasing the minimum age for marriage and civil partnership to 18 was close to unanimous.
In view of these findings, the Minister for Finance, Conor Murphy MLA, has issued a Written Ministerial Statement signalling his preference that work to plan for legislative reform at the earliest opportunity continues while recognising that progress is dependent on there being a functioning Assembly and Executive.