Amnesty International has said that a clear majority in favour of marriage equality now exists among members of the newly-elected Northern Ireland Assembly following the election on 5 May 2016.
The human rights organisation is now calling for early legislation to bring the region into line with the rest of the United Kingdom and Ireland.
According to Amnesty, at least 58 of the 108 elected Assembly members (MLAs) support the introduction of equal marriage. The figures are based on approaches to candidates before the election by Amnesty supporters and other marriage equality campaigners, as well as previous voting records and public statements.
In November the Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favour of the introduction of same‐sex marriage for the first time, by a margin of 53 to 52 MLAs, but the Democratic Unionist Party blocked the motion using a “petition of concern” veto mechanism, originally designed to protect minority rights.
Marriage is available to same-sex couples in every other part of the UK and Ireland. Amnesty considers Northern Ireland law to be in breach of international human rights standards which specify that countries must not discriminate with regards to the right to marry and found a family on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said: “There is now a clear majority within the Northern Ireland Assembly in favour of marriage equality. Based on our figures, even a conservative reading of voting intentions shows that there are now at least 58 MLAs in favour of legislating for equal marriage, with 49 or fewer opposed. This is a marked shift in favour of equality and brings the make-up of the Assembly significantly closer to public opinion on this issue.
“The last Assembly repeatedly failed to deliver equality for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland. The new Assembly must put that right without further delay by passing marriage equality legislation to bring us into line with the rest of the UK and Ireland. We call on MLAs from all parties to unite behind a single Marriage Equality Bill in the early stages of the new Assembly term.”
During the election campaign, four parties – Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and the Greens – committed themselves to the introduction of equal marriage legislation. According to Amnesty’s figures, support from these parties as well as from newly-elected members of the Ulster Unionist Party and others would ensure the passage of equality legislation, as long as the “petition of concern” is not used to veto the Bill.
The election of a pro-marriage equality majority in the Assembly comes against a backdrop of widespread and increasing public support in Northern Ireland for the introduction of marriage rights for same-sex couples, following the Yes vote in the marriage equality referendum in the Republic of Ireland in May 2015.
Last July an Ipsos MORI Survey showed that 68% of people in Northern Ireland support same-sex marriage, while an estimated 20,000 people took part in a pro-marriage equality march in Belfast, organised by Amnesty International, Rainbow Project and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The Amnesty-backed Love Equality campaign, launched in March, has committed itself to securing civil marriage equality in Northern Ireland.