Thousands march on Belfast to protest lack of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Thousands have marched in Belfast to protest against a lack of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage is still not legal.

The march, which attracted tens of thousands of people, set off in Writers’ Square and ended at Belfast City Hall.

Protesters held placards protesting the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has repeatedly used peace process powers to block same-sex marriage legislation.

There have been five votes on same-sex marriage at Stormont but the last time the Assembly voted in November 2015, despite a vote narrowly in favour, the DUP blocked it again.

The DUP used a petition of concern to block any change through legislation.

Despite this the DUP, and its leader Arlene Foster, denies that it is homophobic, saying that it just wants to protect the “traditional” definition of marriage.

Same-sex marriage has seen support from a large number of organisations and celebrities.

Earlier this week Liam Neeson, Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody and TV host Graham Norton have urged the change.

Neeson said: “We’ve had enough of a history in our society in Northern Ireland of discrimination, mistrust and hatred.

“Yet, we’re also an open-hearted, welcoming and terrific people. Let us show that to the world by treating gay, lesbian and transgender peoples as our brothers and sisters and allowing them to marry, if they so wish.”

Norton added: “My own mother was from Northern Ireland, so of course I have a huge affection for the place and its people,” he said.

“I know it is hugely frustrating for gay people there that it is the last part of these islands still without marriage equality. Especially when there is such overwhelming support for it among the public.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster reaffirmed plans to continue employing powers to block any future marriage legislation.

She recently defended her actions by insisting gay people don’t really want to get married anyway.

Ms Foster said: “This suggestion that every single person who’s a homosexual wants to change the definition of marriage is actually wrong.

“I know plenty of people in that community who don’t want to see marriage redefined and are quite content to live in partnership… it’s all become a bit of a storm in a teacup.”

The leader has also backed the introduction of a ‘conscience’ clause that would permit discrimination in the past.

Responding to an MLA’s question about whether such a law would enable homophobia, she said: “I don’t share her concerns at all.

“What does concern me is the number of small businesses who have approached me individually and many of my colleagues in relation to the concerns they have about the provision of services in the future.”