First Published: October 2019
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
Northern Ireland has now legalised same-sex marriage after the Democratic Unionist Party's attempt to block any change collapsed into total farce, as most of the NI Assembly members walked out. Legislation passed three months ago in Westminster now makes marriage equality legal next January, allowing same-sex couples to wed in time for Valentine's Day 2020.
Northern Ireland had retained a Victorian-era ban on same sex marriage because of misused powers of veto known as the Petition of Concern, created by the Good Friday Agreement to maintain peace. Effectively the petition means that, provided enough MLAs from a given community agree, that community (or a sufficiently large party in that community) can exercise a veto over the Assembly's decisions. This power has been completely misused by the DUP to stop same-sex marriage even though in November 2015 MLAs as a whole voted in favour of a law change.

The Conservative government, who are currently reliant on DUP votes in Westminster, declined to intervene, saying that the legalisation of same-sex marriage as well as the legalisation on abortion were both issues for devolved government. However a dispute between the DUP and Sinn Féin toppled the power-sharing assembly and executive at Stormont in January 2017.

In July, the Labour MP Conor McGinn tabled an amendment to an otherwise technical government bill connected to the defunct assembly. MPs voted overwhelmingly to allow same-sex marriage if Stormont didn't sit by midnight on Monday 21 October 2019. At the same time, a similar amendment brought forward by Labour MP Stella Creasy, put a moratorium on criminal prosecutions for abortion and halted police investigations into abortion cases. Abortion will as a result be legalised in Nothern Ireland on 31 March next year.

Monday was the last chance for opponents of change to restore Stormont and avert both pieces of legislation from becoming law.

Some 31 members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) signed a petition to force a recall of Stormont so they could discuss a motion to put abortion rights back in the hands of local politicians, and continue the ban on same-sex marriage.

Sinn Féin and the Alliance party said they would not attend, calling the event a stunt, leaving Monday's gathering largely symbolic and devoid of the power to elect a new speaker and form an executive. The legislation passed in Westminster therefore took effect at midnight Monday.

The bigotry and shame of some NI politicans has now been ended with the basic human right to marry the person you love being extended to everyone in the UK within a few months.

The new legislation says the Westminster government must bring in regulations to provide for same-sex marriage by 13 January 2020. Because couples have to indicate their intention to marry 28 days before doing so - the first gay weddings are expected to be held in mid-February.

Northern Ireland Secretary, Julian Smith, declared: "This means, at the latest, the first civil same-sex marriages will take place in the week of Valentine's Day 2020." It will take longer to allow religious same-sex marriage ceremonies, or convert existing civil partnerships, because a "short consultation" is needed. Northern Ireland has for decades been the only part of the United Kingdom that does not allow same-sex marriage.

Some might say we achieved all this despite Brexit - but of course it was the European Union who insisted that the UK grant equality to same-sex couples in the first place.


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