Labour, Tory, Lib Dem and Green MPs sponsor bill to bring equal marriage to Northern Ireland

Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and Green MPs are jointly sponsoring a bill to bring equal marriage to Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK that continues to ban same-sex marriage, due to opposition from the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party.

Following the collapse of Northern Ireland’s devolved power-sharing government, campaigners on the region have said that responsibility for bringing about equal marriage now lies with the UK Parliament.

Legislation is being introduced in Parliament this week, with Northern Ireland-born Labour MP Conor McGinn introducing a Ten Minute Rule bill to the House of Commons this week.

The legislation will be jointly sponsored by Conservative MP Nick Herbert, Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas – while Tory peer Lord Hayward has put forward a parallel bill in the House of Lords.

Belfast Gay Pride

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Ms Moran said: “Delivering same-sex marriage in England is one of the proudest achievements of the Liberal Democrats’ time in coalition government – but sadly many couples in Northern Ireland are not allowed to marry the person they love.

“I’d much rather that this decision was taken by local politicians in Belfast, but given that it doesn’t seem the Assembly will be up and running again soon, I believe that Westminster MPs are right to change the law to provide marriage equality for everyone.

“It is a real honour and a privilege to be sponsoring this legislation. I hope that all parties will now support it and make sure it becomes law as quickly as possible so that everyone, in all parts of the United Kingdom, no matter where they live or who they love, can get married.”

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Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley has said the Government will allow a free vote on the bill as a “matter of conscience”.

In an interview with PinkNews in Westminster this week, the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill gave her backing to the move – even though, as republicans, Sinn Féin do not typically recognise the authority of the UK Parliament over Northern Ireland.

Ms O’Neill told PinkNews: “We have no government in the North at the moment, we haven’t had for 14 months, and one of the issues that’s right at the heart of the political impasse is the fact that we weren’t able to secure marriage equality in the Assembly despite quite a number of attempts.

“I was very clear throughout the [recent power-sharing] negotiations that if I wasn’t able to secure it as a deal with the DUP, we would go an alternative route.”

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She added: “Obviously, as an Irish republican, it does not sit easily with me that we would legislate here in Westminster – but we believe there is a way to do it, which is written into the Good Friday Agreement.

“We are happy and content that this is a route that can hopefully lead to a positive outcome for our citizens who just want the same rights that people have elsewhere. It’s a very reasonable request.”

The DUP is opposed to the move.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the News Letter: “We are of the view it is a devolved matter and should remain a devolved matter.”

He added: “I think there is very little prospect of the bill getting through all of the stages in the parliamentary process, and it remains our view that this is a devolved matter and clearly should be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“It is more of a symbolic gesture.”

Writing for PinkNews earlier this month, Labour MP Conor McGinn said: “If the Commons is in favour, as I expect it will be, the Government will have a moral and political duty to act and bring in legislation to end this discrimination once and for all.

“While I am confident we can secure a convincing majority in support of my bill in the Commons, the rights of LGBT people in Northern Ireland should not be delayed by a parliamentary process that can knock backbench bills like mine off course.

“It is vital the Government also gets behind this change and makes sure that we get legislation to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK and Ireland on equal marriage.

“Every day that same-sex couples have to wait for this change is a day too long. They cannot and should not have to wait for the ongoing political impasse at Stormont to be resolved.”