LGBT rights campaigners in Northern Ireland have demanded that the government make gay marriage a priority.
The region held an election earlier this month following the resignation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. As a result, the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) no longer has enough seats to block attempts to legalise the practice despite having the most seats overall. However if other unionists join them, a veto would still be possible.
This week a group of organisations including Amnesty International, the Rainbow Project, Cara Friend and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions demanded a commitment from the upcoming Executive (Parliament) that marriage equality will be on the agenda when the new session begins. The group, collectively called the Love Equality coalition, said the issue would be a “litmus test” for the new Executive.
Declan Meehan of Cara Friend said that everyone in Northern Ireland “must be served by the incoming government – that includes the LGBT community”.
Without a firm commitment from the Executive on marriage equality “we know it will be another five years of LGBT people being treated as second-class citizens” he insisted.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the British Isles where same sex couples do not have the right to marry, despite strong support from its people. Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) have tried to rectify this on several occasions but have failed every time.
Most recently in 2015, a bill to legalise gay marriage received majority support in the Northern Ireland Executive but was vetoed by the DUP. They used a measure called a ‘petition of concern’ in order to prevent the bill becoming law. These were introduced in 1998 as a way for nationalist and unionist parties to halt any legislation they believe will not have enough support from their Catholic or Protestant supporters.