Northern Ireland: Irish marriage equality leaders urge Dublin to intervene on same-sex marriage

“LGBT+ couples must not be made to pay the price of political failure. The Irish government must do all within its power to ensure that love wins” – joint statement

The leaders of Ireland’s successful equal marriage campaign have called on the Irish Government to put pressure on Westminster to legislate for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, in a joint statement published today.

The intervention comes more than two years after the collapse of Northern Ireland’s devolved government and three years after the introduction of equal marriage in the Republic of Ireland. Earlier this month, the deputy head of the Government of Ireland, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, met with members of Northern Ireland’s Love Equality campaign, which is working to secure equal marriage for the region.

The signatories of the statement – including Yes Equality, Amnesty International, Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), Belong To, Marriage Equality and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) - played a key role in the successful marriage equality campaign in the Republic of Ireland in 2015, which saw 62% of people vote Yes to equal marriage.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland which still bans marriage for same-sex couples, despite majority support for equal marriage amongst the public and in the Northern Ireland Assembly. At least 55 out of 90 Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly have publicly voiced their support for marriage equality legislation but have been unable to legislate since the collapse of Stormont on January 9, 2017.

The statement reads:

Dear Sir,

“Tánaiste Simon Coveney’s meeting in Belfast with the Love Equality coalition, which is campaigning for marriage equality in Northern Ireland, is to be welcomed.

“It is wholly unacceptable that, years after the introduction of equal marriage legislation in every other part of the UK and Ireland, same-sex couples north of the border should continue to face discrimination.

“This is despite overwhelming support for marriage equality among the Northern Ireland public, as demonstrated in poll after poll, and the cross-party support of at least 55 of the 90 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“This past week marks the two-year anniversary of the official collapse of institutions at Stormont. Since then, that Assembly has not had the power to legislate. Currently, there is not even a talks process, never mind an agreement for a return of devolved government. 

“That being the case, the only legislature and the only government able to address this inequality is at Westminster.

“The Irish government should take every opportunity to make representations to their counterparts in London to right this wrong. 

“If it chooses, the Stormont Assembly can legislate on the matter in its own right when it returns, but meanwhile, LGBT+ couples must not be made to pay the price of political failure. The Irish government must do all within its power to ensure that love wins.”

Signatories: Dr Grainne Healy and Brian Sheehan, Co-Directors of Yes Equality, Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, Patricia King, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Moninne Griffith, Executive Director of Belong To, Síona Cahill, President of the Union of Students in Ireland and Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

Collapse of Stormont

In January 2017, both the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly collapsed after Sinn Féin withdrew their support. Attempts to restore power-sharing have failed.

Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

In November 2015, Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to support equal marriage, but the measure was blocked by the Democratic Unionist Party which issued a Petition of Concern, a voting mechanism originally designed to protect the rights of minorities in Northern Ireland.

On 20 February 2018, Karen Bradley MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that Parliament can legislate for equal marriage in Northern Ireland in a written answer to Conor McGinn MP:

‘In accordance with the Belfast Agreement, [marriage] is a devolved matter which should be addressed in the NI Assembly; but the power of the Westminster Parliament to legislate remains unaffected. If this issue were to be raised in Westminster, the Government’s policy is to allow a free vote on matters of conscience such as equal marriage.’

However, to date, the UK Government has refused to legislate or allocate parliamentary time for either of the two Private Members' Bills which have been submitted to Parliament on equal marriage legislation.

A Sky News poll in April 2018 showed 76% support for marriage equality amongst the Northern Ireland public.

Amnesty’s petition calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to introduce a Bill to legalise equal marriage in Northern Ireland has more than 35,000 signatures.

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