Northern Ireland same-sex marriage bill introduced in House of Commons

Could the UK finally get nationwide equality?


A private member's bill proposing that same-sex marriage be made legal in Northern Ireland is set to be introduced to the House of Commons today (March 28).

Labour MP Conor McGinn, who represents St Helen's North in Merseyside but was born in County Armagh, will table the bill on Wednesday.

The move come after a similar piece of legislation put before the House of Lords by a Conservative peer, Lord Hayward, passed its first stage on Tuesday (March 27).

Nothern Ireland remains the only part of the UK and Ireland that has not ended the ban on marriage equality.

The issue is devolved, meaning it's up to the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide on the issue. However, the Assembly hasn't functioned in more than a year since the power-sharing agreement between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Feinn broke down at the end of 2016.

This gives Westminster the opportunity to introduce legislation directly - something equal marriage campaigners have seized upon.

Activists will deliver a petition to 10 Downing Street today calling on Westminster to legalise same-sex marriage in the absence of a government at Stormont.

Despite the message the private member's bill sends the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland, the odds of the legislation becoming law look slim. 

Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLAs) have voted five times on whether or not to end the ban on same-sex marriage, with each ending in a defeat for equality.

The most recent vote came in November 2015, when a narrow majority of MLAs actully voted in favour of same-sex marriage for the first time - but the vote was swiftly blocked by the DUP under the rules of Stormont's power-sharing agreement.

The DUP, who have consistently opposed marriage equality, are currently propping up Theresa May's minority Conservative goverment at Westminster as part of a £1bn deal, so any support for the private member's bill from the British government is likely to have profund political consequences. 

Ben Kelly, a London-based journalist originally from Derry/LondonDerry in Northern Ireland, says he wants politicians to prioritise LGBT+ people's rights over politics.

"Polling clearly shows a majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see same sex marriage legalised, and a majority of our elected representatives do too. The only thing standing in its way is the well worn obstinacy of the DUP," he tells Attitude.

"The LGBT community have waited at the back of the queue for too long. While I would have preferred to see this legislation passed in Northern Ireland, in the ongoing absence of the Assembly the time has now come for the British government to take the reins and make love the law."

28-year-old Ben, who is currently planing his wedding to boyfriend Dom, continued: "It's wrong that I can marry freely in London or Dublin but not in Derry where I come from.

"Whether you identify as British or Irish, this issue crosses the community divide, and while the LGBT community may be small, this law would make an enormous impact on our lives."

Meanwhile, Lord Hayward told the BBC that "equality is not something you can pick and choose on around the United Kingdom".

"It should apply to all parts of the UK," he said after reading his bill in the Lords on Tuesday.

Same-sex marriage was legalised in England and Wales in July 2013, and in Scotland in February 2014.

Just over a year later, in May 2015, the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to end the ban on marriage equality in a national referendum on the issue.