Northern Irish LGBT groups reject calls for referendum on same-sex marriage

A number of leading LGBT groups in Northern Ireland have rejected Labour’s calls for a referendum on same-sex marriage.

Same-sex marriage has been passed by elected representatives in both the Westminster 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 equal marriage bills four times by filing a ‘petition of concern’ to veto them.

In a bid to break the deadlock on the issue, the UK Labour Party called for Northern Ireland to follow in the footsteps of the Republic of Ireland, by holding a binding public referendum on the issue, and putting same-sex marriage to a public vote.

However, following the call from Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, Ivan Lewis, a number of Northern Irish LGBT groups have come forward to say a referendum is unnecessary and demeaning.

In a joint statement, a number of LGBT organisations – The Rainbow Project, HereNI, Cara-Friend, SAIL and Gender Jam NI – said that the idea of putting equality to a public vote was fundamentally wrong, and that their resources are better spent helping LGBT people than running an election campaign.

While the Republic of Ireland needed to make constitutional changes to permit same-sex marriage, requiring a referendum, the groups say equality can be passed in Northern Ireland through normal legislation – as was the case in England, Wales and Scotland.

The joint statement said: “We greatly appreciate the time taken by the Shadow Secretary of State to meet with our sector.

“We welcome any and all opportunities to speak with political leaders about the state of LGB&T equality in Northern Ireland and Ivan was very willing to listen to our objectives and concerns not only on marriage equality but on wider issues of homophobia, transphobia, health care provision and education. We hope to continue these engagements with Ivan and his party colleagues.

“However, we fundamentally disagree with Labour’s suggestion that the on-going and unlawful denial of the right to marry for LGB&T people in Northern Ireland should or could be resolved by a public referendum.

“Of course we were delighted to see the ‘yes’ victory in the Republic of Ireland and many of us were deeply involved with that campaign but it would be inappropriate to suggest that the referendum campaign could be replicated in the North.

“We believe that the current patchwork of marriage laws across the UK is wrong and that it went wrong in Westminster.

“Not only did the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act create the untenable situation where some marriages are only recognised in some regions of the UK but it placed unacceptable burdens on trans individuals to seek the permission of their spouse in order to access legal recognition of their gender.

“We believe that, were a referendum to be called, equality would win – but it is wholly unacceptable to expect the LGB&T community in Northern Ireland, in the face of the most organised opposing forces in the UK, to secure a win in a referendum which would not be proposed in any other region of the UK.”

The DUP’s First Minister Peter Robinson resigned earlier this week – amid a separate crisis in the country revolving around the IRA.