What Will it Take to Bring Marriage Equality to Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland is the only place in the UK that does not have marriage equality, but that could be about to change.

Northern Ireland is responsible for governing marriage rules as part of the devolved powers that have been invested in its lawmaking general assembly, Stormont. However, the UK government does have the ability to step in under certain circumstances.

Northern Ireland’s power-sharing deal between it’s two major parties, the DUP and Sinn Feinn, broke up last year. Since that time, Stormont has been unable to pass legislation with civil servants being the ones who are in charge of budgetary issues while Stormont remains vacant.

This obviously has left matters of equality like same-gender marriage at an impasse. However, campaigners and UK lawmakers alike are done waiting.

The Guardian has a commentary from the Labour MP for St Helens North, Conor McGinn, who says he is pushing for a vote in the House of Commons. McGinn writes:

“The UK government should now introduce legislation as quickly as possible to end this injustice. I know that many in Northern Ireland share my view. The government has to date resisted the opportunity to give that assurance. But something has to change. That is why I am introducing planned legislation in the form of a backbench bill at Westminster to allow equal marriage in Northern Ireland.

“The Northern Ireland secretary of state, Karen Bradley, has confirmed to me that the House of Commons has the power to do this, and that the Conservative party will allow its MPs a free vote on the issue. Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Tony Lloyd, has backed my proposals, and has committed a Labour government to legislating for equal marriage.”

PM Theresa May, answering questions in Parliament, has said that this is a matter for Stormont: “This is an issue that we have taken up, it is an issue we have championed. We hope that there will be a Northern Ireland executive in place soon that will be able to address these issues.”

However, campaigners argue that the DUP actually created this mess in the first place because they previously stopped marriage equality becoming law in 2015 despite a majority vote of 53 to 52 in favor. The DUP used a “petition of concern”, a mechanism that was designed to prevent the once bitter divisions in Northern Ireland from re-emerging and the law favoring any one group over another.

By almost any reading of this move, it was an extraordinary intervention and, many have argued, a flagrant abuse of power to impose the DUP’s narrow religious agenda.

May has also been accused of capitulating to the DUP whom she needs in order for the Conservatives to cling to power in Westminster.

As it stands, marriage equality in Northern Ireland cannot become law without the UK government’s support, but there is reason to think this could be an issue on which the Prime Minister may ultimately bend.

Labour, under Jeremy Corbynm, is keen to highlight the disconnect between the Conservative government’s vision of Brexit and what the figures from both expert groups in the UK and Europe show. Labour is also keen to disavow the Conservative’s re-branding of itself as a progressive party that ushered through same-gender marriage in the UK.

In reality, there were significant divisions in the Tory government, a Liberal Democratic coalition partner that had long-backed  same-gender marriage, and the threat of European court action.

As a result, Labour can exploit this moment to make the Prime Minister choose: either the Conservative government sides with the DUP or it chooses the side that it claims to have championed all along and backs marriage equality.

With the threat of legal action in Northern Ireland also looming, it appears that marriage equality will come to Northern Ireland within the next few years. The question is how long the Northern Ireland and UK governments want to draw out this fight.

For the dignity of all concerned, they should immediately move to legislate for marriage equality. It is what equality and the people demand.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

52 comments

Marie W
Marie W28 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Maria P
Past Member 5 months ago

Joining the 21st century

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Past Member
Past Member 5 months ago

keep fighting

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DAVID f
Dave f5 months ago

Will not happen for a long time to many BIGOTS on this island .

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Sabrina D
Past Member 6 months ago

It would be great if marriage equality were brought even in Northern Ireland.

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Lesa D
Lesa D6 months ago

thank you Steve...

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Megan S
Megan S6 months ago

Have your own wedding. Who cares if the government doesn't recognise it? Fuck the government they shouldn't be meddling in marriage in the first place.

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Jaime J
Jaime J6 months ago

Thank you!!

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One Heart i
One Heart inc6 months ago

Thanks!

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Lesa D
Lesa D6 months ago

thank you Steve...

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