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Thousands march in Belfast for marriage equality in Northern Ireland

By Ross Semple

Thousands of equal marriage campaigners took to the streets of Belfast on Saturday (July 1) to urge the government of Northern Ireland to introduce equal marriage.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage is not legal.

Marriage equality in Northern Ireland is back under the spotlight after Theresa May struck a deal with the DUP to continue governing. The DUP, the largest party in Northern Ireland, and its representatives have a long history of anti-LGBT+ statements and policies.

The DUP has blocked equal marriage legislation multiple times in the Northern Ireland assembly – most recently in November 2015, when a majority of the Assembly actually voted to legalise same-sex marriage, only for the DUP to effectively veto the measure under the terms of Stormont’s power-sharing agreement.

The march on Saturday through Belfast’s city centre was attended by thousands. John O’Doherty, director of the LGBT+ organisation Rainbow Project, told the crowd: “Action to make communities safe, action to make schools safe, an overarching commitment from all the public institutions to addressing the historical and current inequalities which prevent Northern Ireland from being the society that we all want it to be.”

“Don’t forget about me and my gay brothers and sisters, we are here and we are not going away,” said Belfast drag queen Titti von Tramp.

Megan Fearon, a Sinn Fein member of the Northern Irish assembly, said that the rally was a “clear sign” that the people of Northern Ireland want change. Opinion polls show that 70% of the country are in favour of marriage equality. “The opposition to marriage equality in the North of Ireland is discriminatory and clearly out of step with the people of these islands and across Europe,” said Megan.

“The DUP can no longer stick their heads in the sand and block equality and rights for citizens in the North.”

On Friday, all of Scotland’s major political leaders urged leaders in Northern Ireland to vote for equality.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, said: “I was proud to play a part in the introduction of equal marriage legislation in Scotland and have been thrilled to see the positive reaction to equal marriage across the country.

“The debate over equal marriage in Scotland did more than just simply allow people to marry, it also helped to challenge negative attitudes that still exist today in our society towards LGBTI people and show, quite simply, that same-sex couples are just as valued as opposite sex couples.

“I offer my support to those continuing the campaign for marriage equality in Northern Ireland.”

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