Labour wants a referendum on equal marriage in Northern Ireland

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The UK Labour Party will support calls for a referendum on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Same-sex marriage has been democratically passed by Parliament in England and Wales, and by Holyrood in Scotland.

However, the issue continues to be blocked in Northern Ireland’s Stormont Assembly – with the governing Democratic Unionist Party blocking equality four times by filing a ‘petition of concern’ to veto marriage bills.

The DUP has also ruled out following in the footsteps of the Republic of Ireland – where the public voted overwhelmingly in favour of equality in a referendum earlier this year.

The party is facing mounting pressure to stop blocking progress on the issue.

Today, Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, Ivan Lewis, spoke out on the issue to back a referendum.

Mr Lewis, the MP for Bury South, told the Guardian: “Ideally, there would be sufficient support in the Northern Ireland assembly to introduce legislation for same-sex marriage.

“This is currently not the case as as in the Republic of Ireland I would propose a referendum be held which allows the people to decide.”

He added of concerns about religious protections in the country, which remains deeply divided on religious grounds: “I respect the right of politicians to cite their faith as reason for their opposition to same-sex marriage.

“I do not condemn or attack them as ‘bigots’ or ‘homophobes’. My difference with them is that in a democracy they are wrong to impose their religious beliefs on the legislative framework, which governs the rights of their fellow citizens.

“Naturally, legislation triggered by a yes vote would include provisions as in the Westminster legislation which ensure faith groups are not required to undertake any activity which they deem as contrary to their beliefs.”

In a speech to LGBT people in Dublin, he weighted in on the possibility that Northern Ireland’s political system will collapse, following the withdrawal of the Ulster Unionist Party from the Power-Sharing Executive he said.

He said: “Today I also want to make clear that in the unfortunate and undesirable event of the current political crisis in Northern Ireland leading to suspension of the political institutions, my party believes the government should give serious consideration to introduce legislation at Westminster to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland.

“The same could apply if the government decides to legislate for welfare reform at Westminster.”