The first gay Northern Ireland Secretary made a heartfelt plea for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
Shaun Woodward, the longest serving Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and former Labour MP, said legalizing same-sex marriage would honor the memory of murdered journalist, Lyra McKee.
McKee, an openly gay Northern Irish journalist, was shot dead while observing a riot in Londonderry on 18 April.
McKee’s death has renewed calls for greater LGBTI equality in Northern Ireland, including for the legalization of same-sex marriage. The journalist was a long-time supporter of LGTI rights.
Two male teenagers and a 57-year-old woman have been arrested in connection with her murder. The New Irish Republican Army (IRA) has said they were responsible for the murder, which they also apologized for.
‘It can be done, it should be done’
Woodward was speaking on UK radio station LBC when he made the renewed call for marriage equality.
‘What better thing could the politicians now do, actually give the gay men and women in Northern Ireland what everybody else in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland has, which is the right to same-sex marriage?’ Woodward asked.
‘One of the best memorials we could give to that wonderful woman [McKee] would be the realization that in Northern Ireland it’s time to allow two people who love each other to be recognized in the sight of God and their friends,’ he added.
‘And when those politicians sit together, let them look in their souls and their hearts and see the importance of giving people the right to be joined in the sight of God and then proceed to get the executive up and running.
‘It can be done, it should be done.’
Woodward also discussed McKee and her partner, Sara Canning. The two had reportedly hoped to marry in 2022.
Friends of the McKee and Canning have said they believed the couple would have already married, the Metro reported. However, the option was not available in Northern Ireland.
‘What we can do to support Lyra, and now Sara and the other people in the community of Northern Ireland, not just gay men and women but everyone, is to uphold to their rights to be given the dignity of a same-sex marriage that everybody else enjoys,’ Woodward said.
‘What a difference that would make,’ Woodward concluded.
Outpouring of support
McKee’s death has been met with an outpouring of support. Numerous public figures and politicians have expressed their remorse over the journalist’s murder.
Thousands of people attended the funeral alongside McKee’s friends and family at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.
Openly gay Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn were also in attendance. Somewhat controversially, so was DUP leader, Arlene Foster.
There have also been numerous vigils held throughout Northern Ireland in memory of McKee.
The 29-year-old was a long-time LGBTI rights advocate and had already begun building up a celebrated career in journalism.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) described McKee as ‘one of the most promising journalists’ in Northern Ireland. Forbes also named her in its 2016 30 under 30 list.
A resident of Londonderry, McKee edited media trade publication, Mediagazer. She had published a non-fiction novella about The Troubles in Northern Ireland called Angels with Blue Faces. Publishing house Faber & Faber had also given her a two-book deal, of which the first book The Lost Boys was due for release next year.
Numerous attempts in the past
While same-sex marriage was legalized in the UK in 2014, Northern Ireland was exempt from the move.
Same-sex couples who have married in other areas of the UK are classified as being in civil partnerships in Northern Ireland.
Reports indicate that 76% of people in Northern Ireland would support of legalizing marriage equality.
In the past, there have been numerous attempts from Northern Ireland’s politicians to legalize marriage equality in the country. While the majority voted in favor of same-sex marriage, all attempts have been blocked by the DUP.
Foster has confirmed that the DUP will continue to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The DUP leader said that while she sympathized Canning and McKee’s family over the tragedy, she added: ‘You shouldn’t conflate sympathy and empathy with the political issue […] of marriage’.