Back in July 2019, British MPs voted to extend same-sex marriage and abortion rights to Northern Ireland — the only part of the UK where abortion remained illegal. Although the Northern Irish government has been in political deadlock for years, delaying the process, the law is finally going into effect, with same-sex couples now able to register to marry.

Couples already married will now be legally recognized in Northern Ireland, and the Northern Ireland Office will begin a consultation later this month on the subject of converting existing civil partnerships into marriages. Starting today, heterosexual couples will also be allowed to enter into civil partnerships.

The marriage amendment was initially put forth by Conor McGinn, who comes from Northern Ireland himself. After the amendment’s passage, he told the BBC, “Everyone who values equality, love, and respect can celebrate today. It’s a good day for Northern Ireland, an important day for citizens’ rights across these islands and an exciting day for same-sex couples who can now register to marry.”

Couples must announce their intention to marry 28 days in advance, so the first same-sex wedding ceremonies in Northern Ireland are expected to take place the week of Valentine’s Day.

“There remain a number of issues to be addressed before couples in Northern Ireland have the same rights as those in other jurisdictions,” said John O’Doherty from the Love Equality campaign. “However, we celebrate this remarkable achievement with the thousands of people who made their voices heard and demanded change in spite of the many barriers placed in their way.”

A version of this article was previously published on July 9, 2019, and was updated on January 14, 2020 with more information.

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