Marriage laws in Northern Ireland are set to be amended, giving equal status to non-religious ceremonies and raising the age of marriage to 18.
The potential changes were heralded by Finance Minister Conor Murphy, who said he intended to introduce legislation once an assembly and executive were operational in Stormont.
The move follows a consultation with her department that considered various churches, civic organizations and wedding businesses.
Temporary arrangements are currently in place in Northern Ireland around the equal weighting of marriages following a 2017 High Court and Court of Appeal ruling.
This judgment required by the government here places religious marriage on the same legislative footing as religious marriage.
Mr Murphy said around 70 per cent of those who responded to the consultation were in favor of the Assembly changing the Marriage Act to put faith-based marriage on an equal footing with religious marriage.
In his written statement, the Sinn Fein politician revealed that none of the three churches that responded to the consultation raised any objections.
The announcement was welcomed by Alliance MP Kellie Armstrong, who said it reflected Northern Ireland as an “evolving society”.
“This decision reflects that. Not everyone fits a specific definition, but rather is part of the wealth of diversity in our community. It’s time for everyone to respect people of other beliefs in law,” said she declared.
He also said the response to the suggestion to raise the current age at which people can legally marry from 16, with parental consent, to 18 was close to unanimous.
“I would like to thank all of the organizations and individuals who responded positively to my department’s consultation,” Murphy said.
“A clear majority supported the proposal to put religious marriage on an equal footing with religious marriage.
“Support for raising the minimum age of marriage and civil partnership to 18 was close to unanimous, with 97% of respondents online supporting the change.
“The responses to the consultation therefore suggest strong support for including marriage of belief in marriage law alongside religious marriage, and for raising the minimum age of marriage/civil partnership to 18.
“My department will now commence work which will enable the preparation of legislation to permit creed marriage and to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18. It will only be possible to introduce and enact this legislation once there will be a functioning Assembly and Executive.”