Same-sex couples in Northern Ireland set for Valentine's Day weddings

Westminster will legalise gay marriage and abortion at midnight tonight.

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Same sex couples will be able to marry in Northern Ireland in time for Valentine's Day. 

Under the terms of an amendment to devolution legislation passed by MPs in July, Westminster must legislate for marriage equality and heterosexual civil partnerships if a Stormont executive is not restored today.

The Assembly will meet today to discuss Northern Ireland's bar on abortion which will also be lifted if power-sharing does not return today after the DUP lodged a successful recall petition. But Sinn Féin, without whom there cannot be an executive, will not participate.

As a result, Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland Secretary, will lay statutory instruments legalising equal marriage, abortion and a pension for victims of the Troubles later today. They will come into force at midnight. 

Under the terms of the same-sex marriage amendment tabled by Labour MP Conor McGinn and Conservative peer Robert Hayward, the change in the law must take effect by 13 January next year. Same-sex couples will be able to give notice of their intention to marry from that day. 

Northern Ireland Office sources confirmed that the first marriages and civil partnerships under the new law will take place 28 days later, in the week of Valentine's Day. 

Patrick Maguire was political correspondent at the New Statesman.

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