From today, gay couples can indicate their intention to get married – meaning the first civil ceremonies will take place in the week of Valentines Day.
The law changed overnight to mean that the country shares the same law on the issue as the rest of the UK, following a vote in June.
One delighted couple, Elise Rinchey and Margaret Seeds from Lisburn, told Belfast Live that the change in the law was the ‘icing on the cake’ for their relationship.
Elise explained: ‘We did consider going across to England to tie the knot but we live in Northern Ireland and when we would have came back it wouldn’t have been recognised.
‘But when it was announced that it would become law last year, it was the icing on the cake for us – it made everything worth the wait.’
The change in the law was voted through by MPs in Westminster while the devolved Stormont Assembly faced gridlock for three years. It is set to reconvene this month.
It means couples who had wedded abroad previously will now have their marriages legally recognised.
But those same-sex couples in civil partnerships will not be able to convert it to a marriage at this stage, ahead of a consultation later this year.
In the Republic of Ireland, same-sex marriage was legalised in 2015, following a landslide win for the yes campaign during a referendum. The UK changed the law in 2013, with the first marriages taking place in March 2014.
Northern Ireland Assembly member Claire Sugden, a former justice minister, tweeted: ‘Same sex marriage now legal in NI. We waited too long for this day.
‘I’m sure today will be v emotional for LGBT community who now share the same rights as me. Looking forward to my first wedding invite! That’s a big hint!’
Her Assembly colleage Andrew Muir added: ‘Same sex Marriage is now legal in Northern Ireland! Wearing my Derry Girls Rainbow badge, Rainbow socks and tie with immense pride!
‘Much more work required to achieve full LGBT equality but today is an absolutely fabulous day!’
In its guidance on the issue, the UK Government explained: ‘The UK government plans to publish a consultation on religious same-sex marriage with the intention of making regulations to enable religious same sex marriage in Northern Ireland in 2020.
‘We think it is right that religious organisations, faith groups and individuals are able to give their views on same sex couples marrying in religious ceremonies, just as they did in England, Wales and Scotland.
‘This means that there will be a short delay before we introduce religious same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland for those religious organisations that choose to do so.
‘We also intend to consult on the right to convert a civil partnership to marriage (and vice versa).’