Campaigners want meeting with Secretary of State as talks due to resume


Campaigners for civil marriage equality in Northern Ireland have written to Secretary of State Karen Bradley to urge that the issue is part of any settlement to restore devolution to Stormont. Failing that, the campaigners want the Westminster government to introduce legislation at Westminster.


The campaigners, from the Love Equality coalition, have asked for an urgent meeting with the new secretary of state, given the centrality of the issue to a new round of political talks which she has called, due to commence on Wednesday.


Excerpts from the letter:


“It is clear that most people in Northern Ireland back a change in the law to allow equal civil marriage. Opinion poll after opinion poll has shown high levels of support for same-sex marriage among the public in Northern Ireland. It is equally clear, from voting records and public statements, that a significant majority of MLAs now back legislation for equal civil marriage.


“Yet the will of the people – and the will of the Assembly – will continue to be frustrated unless there is an agreement among the parties which will form any future government, to either support such legislation or, at least, to refrain from blocking it by the use of the Petition of Concern mechanism.


“As the Secretary of State, with an interest in ensuring sustainable, credible devolved government in Northern Ireland, we urge you to work with the Northern Ireland parties to ensure that a return to government is accompanied by a watertight commitment from the parties to the passage of marriage equality legislation. Agreement to a further process to review the Petition of Concern, subsequent to the restoration of devolution, and without any clear or guaranteed outcome, would not meet this test.


“If there is no return to devolved government, we ask that you introduce equal marriage legislation at Westminster to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK. While our preference is for equal marriage legislation to be passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, further delay is now unacceptable and you will have our very public support in taking such legislative action to uphold the rights of lesbian and gay people here.”


The letter is signed on behalf of the Love Equality coalition, the campaign for civil marriage equality in Northern Ireland – comprising the Rainbow Project (John O’Doherty), Amnesty International (Patrick Corrigan), the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Owen Reidy), Here NI (Cara McCann), Cara Friend (Steve Williamson) and NUS-USI / National Union of Students (Olivia Potter-Hughes).


Northern Ireland left behind

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.