Northern Ireland Assembly to debate marriage equality on April 29

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The Northern Ireland Assembly will debate marriage equality on April 29.

The nation is the only one in the United Kingdom that has yet to enact same-sex marriage, and has brought the issue up twice already in recent years. In 2012, the measure was rejected by a vote of 45 in favor to 50 against, and in 2013 by a vote of 42 to 53.

Unwilling to give up, six members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) have filed a motion calling for the legalization of marriage equality. The full motion, as listed on the Northern Ireland Assembly agenda for April 29, reads:

Motion: Marriage Equality

Proposed:

That this Assembly notes that other jurisdictions on these islands have moved forward with equal marriage rights for same-sex couples; believes that all couples, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should have the same legal entitlement to marry and to the protections, rights, obligations and benefits afforded by the legal institution of marriage; supports freedom of religion by allowing religious institutions to define, observe and practise marriage according to their beliefs, granting them the freedom whether or not to conduct same-sex marriages; calls on the Minister of Finance and Personnel to introduce legislation to guarantee that couples of any sex or gender identity receive equal benefit; and further calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to ensure that all legislation adheres to the Executive’s commitments to protect equality for all.

As in many other nations, the motion filed also protects religious freedom, as seen in the clause allowing faith communities to decide for themselves if they will participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies.

However, even if the sponsoring MLAs can sway a majority of the Assembly to vote in favor of their motion, Northern Ireland still has a major legal obstacle to contend with. According to Gay Star News, “the Democratic Unionist Party is strongly opposed and has 38 MLAs. It only takes 30 MLAs to issue a Petition of Concern on a motion. This then means that 50% of the unionists and 50% of the nationalists in the assembly must agree it before it can become law. As the DUP make up more than 50% of unionists, they can therefore block the measure.”

The chair of Northern Ireland’s Equal Marriage Campaign, John O’Doherty, told GSN, “The likelihood is the motion won’t win a majority vote but with the Petition of Concern the DUP will have, it won’t pass even if it did win a majority vote.

“A majority vote at this stage would be a moral victory rather than an actual victory.

“The likelihood is this is all going to result in a legal challenge.”

Civil partnerships, which grant rights nearly identical to that of marriage, have been legal for same-sex couples since 2004, and marriages performed elsewhere are recognized within Northern Ireland as civil partnerships.

The independent Republic of Ireland to the south is expected to hold a referendum on marriage equality early in 2015.

429Magazine

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