After a Long Fight, Marriage Equality Could Finally Come to Northern Ireland
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Marriage equality has been on the tip of everyone’s tongue in Northern Ireland. On March 28, the Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for St Helen’s North, Conor McGinn, introduced the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill to the House of Commons. After an impassioned speech in which Mr. McGinn spoke of the need for Northern Ireland marriage equality, he submitted his Private Member’s Bill to the Speaker and it passed its First Reading. This may not seem like much, but the Northern Ireland marriage equality campaign has been moving forward since the end of 2011.
Equal marriage was legislated for in England and Wales in 2013, Scotland in 2014 and the Republic of Ireland by way of a public referendum in 2015. (In fact, Ireland was the first country in the world to legalize marriage equality by a public vote, with Australia following suit in 2017.)
But just across the water in Northern Ireland, same-sex couples are still unable to avail of marriage, instead being forced to choose to enter into a civil union which affords most, but not all, of the same rights as marriage.
A history of the legislative fight for Northern Ireland marriage equality
Our local Assembly — Northern Ireland, much like individual U.S. States, has its own legislature that makes laws on local issues — has debated the issue five times since 2012.
Four of those times, the measure was blocked by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) by way of a mechanism known as a Petition of Concern, a quirk left over from the peace process designed to protect minorities from institutional discrimination. But in November 2015, the measure was carried by one vote — but was again blocked by the DUP.
Since then, same-sex couples and the Love Equality NI campaign have been in a sort of limbo, focusing their efforts on changing public opinion on the matter. It’s been rather successful. A 2016 survey by Ipsos-Mori revealed that 68% of respondents approved of Northern Ireland marriage equality — in 2017, approval moved up to 70%.
In January 2017, the government in Northern Ireland collapsed after the two parties were unable to reconcile fundamental differences over a number of issues, marriage equality being one of them. There have been several attempts to restore the government with no success, so a myriad of issues, including same-sex marriage, have been left unaddressed for over 15 months.
Given the lack of movement by the U.K. Government to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the U.K., the Love Equality NI campaign set its sights on Westminster, the site of the U.K. Parliament. They were pulling for the introduction of a Private Member’s Bill, which Conor McGinn did last Wednesday.
Why I support Northern Ireland marriage equality
I live in Northern Ireland with my fiancé, William, and our two dogs, Mylo and Gypsy. I asked William to marry me on December 1 of last year. We will be entering into a civil union on Jan. 26, 2019.
I know that this will be the happiest day of my life, but as someone who has campaigned for marriage equality for so long, I am tired of having to explain to people why it’s important to us. It’s a legal reality that has so far been far out of reach, yet is long overdue.
In Belfast, 20,000 people took to the streets last summer to demand that something be done to afford same-sex couples like myself and William the same dignity, respect and legal protections given to straight couples without question.
I’ve heard people say that, “Gays can have Civil Partnerships. Marriage is sacred and special.” To me that translates as, “The love between two men or two women isn’t special and isn’t sacred.” Well, I’ve had just about enough of that, and I’m tired of the U.K. government silently enabling that attitude by way of doing nothing.
Don’t we deserve to be treated equally?