10/01/2019

Westminster Urged To Lift NI's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

A combined group of charities and unions have united to press the UK government to intervene and legislate for marriage equality for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland, as the region marks two years without a sitting Assembly.

Amnesty International, Stonewall, the Trades Union Congress and the National Union of Students issued a statement urging Westminster to act on the anniversary, Wednesday 09 January.

The region remains the only part of the UK which still has a ban on marriage for such couples, despite majority support for reform on the issue.

According to Amnesty International UK, at least 55 out of 90 Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly have publicly voiced their support for marriage equality legislation but have been unable to legislate since the collapse of Stormont on January 9, 2017.

In a joint statement, the organisations highlighted that Northern Irish couples are being denied the right that was granted to England and Wales in 2013, Scotland in 2014 and the Republic of Ireland in 2015.

"This is despite overwhelming support among the public there, as demonstrated in poll after poll, and the support of at least 55 of the 90 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

"However, the Assembly has not had the power to legislate for the last two years. Regrettably there is currently no talks process, never mind an agreement for a return of devolved government to Northern Ireland.  Given these unfortunate circumstances, the only legislature currently able to address this inequality is at Westminster.
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"The UK Government is rightly proud of its record in promoting LGBT+ rights around the world. Yet, here in the UK, LGBT+ people are experiencing blatant discrimination on its watch.

"That is why, alongside our partners in the Northern Ireland Love Equality campaign, we are appealing to the Government to extend the England and Wales legislation to couples in Northern Ireland.

"The Stormont Assembly can then legislate on the matter in its own right when it returns.

"But meanwhile, LGBT+ couples must not be made to pay the price of the Assembly's collapse. Instead, they should be able to celebrate and formalise their relationships in the same way as every other part of the UK."

The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive collapsed when Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister in 2017.

The Assembly had previously voted to support equal marriage, in November 2015, but the measure was blocked by the DUP which issued a Petition of Concern, a voting mechanism designed to protect the rights of minorities in Northern Ireland.

On 20 February 2018, Secretary of State Karen Bradley said that Parliament can legislate for equal marriage, in a written answer to Conor McGinn MP: "In accordance with the Belfast Agreement, marriage is a devolved matter which should be addressed in the NI Assembly; but the power of the Westminster Parliament to legislate remains unaffected. If this issue were to be raised in Westminster, the Government's policy is to allow a free vote on matters of conscience such as equal marriage."

The UK Government has so far refused to legislate or allocate parliamentary time for either of the two Private Members' Bills which have been submitted to Parliament on equal marriage legislation.



(JG/MH)

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