Northern Ireland Assembly votes for marriage equality

DUP use a ‘petition of concern’ saying Bill doesn’t have cross-community support to stop a change in law

In a historic vote, Northern Ireland’s Stormont Assembly narrowly voted in favour of same-sex marriage, with 53 Assembly members voting in favour and 51 against. However, due to the political nature of Northern Ireland, the vote will not see a change in the law.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) used a ‘petition of concern’ to stop a change in the law, a power given to the assembly via the peace process. As the unionists don’t support the measure, they claim it does not have sufficient cross-community support. Parties can use this veto if the feel there isn’t enough backing from both Protestants and Catholics, to ensure no one community could dominate.

This is the fifth time they have voted for change, being the first time since the successful referendum in the Republic of Ireland on the issue.

In the same week, a poll released for BBC Northern Ireland and RTE showed 64 per cent of people were for same-sex marriage, with only 23 per cent against.

John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project said, “We are absolutely elated today. We cannot overstate the impact this vote will have on our community across Northern Ireland. I want to sincerely thank all those MLAs who voted in favour of the motion today; those who have supported marriage equality from the start and particularly those who have gone on a journey in their support.

“It is true that the DUP have abused the petition of concern to block this vote and are now ignoring the will of the Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland but we will not allow them to dampen our joy today. Our campaign continues and it will not end until marriage equality is a reality for everyone in Northern Ireland.”

Sinn Féin takes a similar view, with Caitríona Ruane having said, “Sinn Féin has been to the fore in supporting marriage equality across Ireland and in Europe and voted for marriage equality each time it has come before the Assembly.

“Marriage equality is a civil rights issue and it is long past the time that it was extended to citizens across Ireland.”

In the Republic of Ireland, the new Marriage act has now been signed into law following a historic referendum, and the first same-sex marriages can take place after November 16th. Ireland has also passed a new Gender Recognition Act, so transgender people can self-declare their gender without seeing a doctor, in what has been a great year for LGBT+ rights in the country. Northern Ireland, however, has taken a different path, and will be one of the few places in Western Europe where it does not recognise same sex marriage.

Leading LGBT groups in the country have rejected calls for a referendum on the issue. In a joint statement in September, The Rainbow Project, HereNI, CaraFriend, SAIL and Gender Jam NI said, “we fundamentally disagree with Labour’s suggestion that the on-going and unlawful denial of the right to marry for LGB&T people in Northern Ireland should or could be resolved by a public referendum.”

“We believe that the current patchwork of marriage laws across the UK is wrong and that it went wrong in Westminster.”

“We believe that, were a referendum to be called, equality would win – but it is wholly unacceptable to expect the LGB&T community in Northern Ireland, in the face of the most organised opposing forces in the UK, to secure a win in a referendum which would not be proposed in any other region of the UK.”

Scotland, meanwhile, has thrown a lifeline to Northern Irish same-sex couples, allowing them to convert their civil partnership into a marriage in Scotland, having previously been banned from doing so. The new law means any civil partnership made anywhere in the world can be converted to a marriage. Despite this, same-sex marriage will not be recognised in Northern Ireland.

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