Northern Ireland: Conservative peer to introduce equal marriage bill in House of Lords

A Bill to provide for marriage equality for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland will be introduced in the House of Lords tomorrow (Tuesday 27 March).

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill will be introduced by Conservative peer Lord Hayward on Tuesday afternoon. The following day, Labour MP Conor McGinn will introduce his identical Bill in the House of Commons.

Campaigners have described the parallel Bills as a “powerful demonstration of cross-party, cross-parliamentary support” for the push to bring marriage equality to Northern Ireland, the last part of the UK or Ireland where same-sex marriage is still unlawful.

Lord Hayward said:

“It gives me great honour to launch the Westminster campaign for equal marriage rights in Northern Ireland in the House of Lords.

“I am pleased to introduce the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill in the Lords with the support of the Love Equality campaign from Northern Ireland. The strength of public opinion for equal marriage rights in Northern Ireland will be shown by the petition they are due to present to Downing Street later this week.

“I am particularly delighted to launch the Bill in the presence of Ulsterman John Henry, whose powerful story moved me and so many others in recent weeks.”

John Henry, brother of Ulster and Ireland rugby star Chris Henry, recently told of how not being able to tell his brother personally that he was gay was “one of the biggest regrets of my life”, after he had moved away from what he perceived to be an intolerant Northern Ireland when he was 18.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty Northern Ireland programme director and a member of the Love Equality campaign, said:

“We welcome this important intervention by Lord Hayward. Our preference has always been for the Northern Ireland Assembly to pass marriage equality legislation, in line with the overwhelming support which exists among the public here.

“However, without functioning devolution for the last 15 months, we now look to Westminster to legislate.

“Lord Hayward’s Bill, in parallel with Conor McGinn's Bill in the Commons later this week, is a powerful demonstration of cross-party, cross-parliamentary support for equal marriage in Northern Ireland.

“We call on the UK Government to introduce its own legislation to ensure equality can now become law for Northern Ireland couples. Discrimination against LGBT couples in Northern Ireland can no longer be tolerated.”

Lord Hayward will introduce his Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday at approximately 3pm.

Conor McGinn MP will then introduce his Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday at 12.30pm, directly after Prime Ministers’ Questions.

The campaigners will also hand in a 30,000-strong petition to 10 Downing Street on Wednesday at 2.30pm, calling for the Government’s support in passing marriage equality legislation for Northern Ireland to bring the region into line with the rest of the UK.

The equality campaign has shifted its focus to Westminster following the collapse of political talks at Stormont designed to restore devolution in Northern Ireland. The Love Equality campaign for equal civil marriage in Northern Ireland is led by the Rainbow Project, Amnesty International, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Cara-Friend, NUS-USI and HereNI.

Monday 26 March: Belfast

3.45pm: Belfast Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister will meet couple Cara McCann and Amanda McGurk at City Hall. Media / photographers invited.

Tuesday 27 March: Belfast and London

Love Equality campaign delegation in Westminster meeting MPs and peers. Spokespeople available for interview in London and Belfast

The delegation consists of: Cara McCann (HereNI), Amanda McGurk, Patrick Corrigan (Amnesty International), Gavin Boyd (Rainbow Project), Ciaran Moynagh (Rainbow Project and Declan Meehan (Cara-Friend). They will be supported by campaigners from Stonewall and All Out.

Wednesday 28 March: London

11:15am: Photo call with campaigners, MPs, peers to show support for marriage equality legislation for Northern Ireland. Banners, placards and balloons will provide colour and message. Location: Old Palace Yard (next to the statue of King George V on Abingdon Street), Westminster.

12.30pm: Conor McGinn MP will introduce his Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill in the House of Commons.

2.30pm: Campaigners and Conor McGinn MP will hand in a 30,000-strong petition to 10 Downing Street, calling for Government support for marriage equality legislation.

Background

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland which still bans marriage for same-sex couples, despite majority support among the public and in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In November 2015, a majority of MLAs in the Assembly voted to support equal marriage, but the measure was blocked by the DUP using a Petition of Concern, a voting mechanism designed to protect the rights of minorities in Northern Ireland.

An Ipsos MORI poll in 2016 showed 70% support for marriage equality amongst the Northern Ireland public. It is thought that at least 55 out of 90 MLAs in the Assembly support marriage equality legislation.

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