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Northern Ireland Assembly to debate gay marriage

Northern Ireland Assembly to debate gay marriage

The Northern Ireland Assembly is to debate giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

It is the only nation in the UK to have not already passed same-sex marriage.

But now six Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) have filed a motion calling for marriage equality.

The private members motion is due to be debated on 29 April.

The motion notes that England, Wales and Scotland have ‘moved forward with equal marriage rights for same-sex couples’.

The politicians argue ‘all couples, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should have the same legal entitlement to marry and to the protections, rights, obligations and benefits afforded by the legal institution of marriage’.

The motion would protect religious freedom by allowing religious institutions to decide whether or not to conduct same-sex marriage.

And it nods to trans issues in requesting ‘couples of any sex or gender identity receive equal benefit’.

It concludes the First Minister and Deputy First Minister should ‘ensure that all legislation adheres to the Executive’s commitments to protect equality for all’.

MLAs rejected same-sex marriage in 2013 by 53 votes to 42, and in 2012 by 50 votes to 45.

But even with a majority in favor, the Northern Ireland Assembly has a lock which would likely prevent equal marriage becoming a reality.

The Democratic Unionist Party is strongly opposed and has 38 MLAs. It only takes 30 MLAs to issue a Petition of Concern on a motion. This then means that 50% of the unionists and 50% of the nationalists in the assembly must agree it before it can become law. As the DUP make up more than 50% of unionists, they can therefore block the measure.

John O’Doherty, chair of Northern Ireland’s Equal Marriage Campaign, told Gay Star News: ‘The likelihood is the motion won’t win a majority vote but with the Petition of Concern the DUP will have, it won’t pass even if it did win a majority vote.

‘A majority vote at this stage would be a moral victory rather than an actual victory.

‘The likelihood is this is all going to result in a legal challenge.’

Nationalist party Sinn Fein and several other parties now have policies supporting equal marriage which O’Doherty describes as a ‘huge achievement and a way to work forward’.

But a legal challenge seems to be the only way to work around the political block and deliver for LGBTI people.

Civil Partnerships came in to Northern Ireland before these issues were devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly by the UK.

South of the border, the independent Republic of Ireland is expected to have a referendum on same-sex marriage in early 2015.