Northern Ireland Assembly criticised by Equality Commission for blocking equal marriage

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Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission has criticised repeated attempts to block progress on equal marriage in the NI Assembly.

“We as a commission support same-sex marriage. It is a fundamental equality matter,” Dr Michael Wardlow, the chief commissioner, said on Wednesday to the BBC.

“Leadership needs to be shown – people from the gay and lesbian community are feeling let down by this.”

The Equality Commission is concerned that Northern Ireland has now fallen behind the rest of the UK when it comes to LGBT rights.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has twice used a petition of concern to block votes on equal marriage at the NI Assembly.

Under Stormont rules, any party can trigger a petition of concern on a motion that then can only pass if the majority of nationalists and unionists back it together.

A joint same-sex marriage proposal by Sinn Fein and the Green Party was defeated in October 2012, along nationalist and unionist lines.

The DUP again blocked progress on equal marriage through another petition of concern in April this year.

In England and Wales the first same-sex marriages are expected to be held next summer, while the Scottish Government is in the advance stages of introducing equal marriage legislation there.

Northern Ireland DUP Health Minister, Edwin Poots, has repeatedly been in the headlines of late, following his unsuccessful legal attempts to prevent civil partners and unmarried couples from adopting children in the province – along with maintaining the lifetime ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland.

In 2011, England, Wales and Scotland introduced a one-year deferral for gay and bisexual men who wish to donate blood.

However, Mr Poots opted to maintain the lifetime ban in Northern Ireland.

Last week, the Supreme Court told Mr Poots he cannot appeal a previous ruling in favour of extending adoption rights.