New push to bring marriage equality to Northern Ireland

A drag queen hlding a sign saying "Equality is not a game of thrones" takes part in Belfast's gay pride protesting Northern Ireland's ban on same sex marriage.

Conservative peer Lord Robert Hayward has renewed efforts to bring marriage equality to Northern Ireland.

Lord Hayward has proposed an amendment to the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths Bill, due for debate in the House of Lords on Friday (1 February), which would extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has not had a functioning devolved administration since January 2017, when relations between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin broke down.

Lord Hayward’s amendment allows for the scenario in which the devolved government returns to power. A clause included in the amendment would give the Northern Ireland Assembly six months to overturn the equal marriage provision after the bill becomes law.

Gay rights campaigners take part in a march through Belfast on July 1, 2017 to protest against the ban on same-sex marriage.

Recent surveys show majority of people in Northern Ireland supports same-sex marriage. (Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images)

“This amendment respects the role of Stormont, but also recognises the reality that those devolved institutions are not currently functioning,” said Lord Hayward.

The Conservative peer introduced a Private Member’s Bill on the subject of marriage equality in Norther Ireland last year in the House of Lords, in collaboration with Labour MP Conor McGinn, who did the same in the Commons.

“Same-sex couples in Northern Ireland should not be asked to wait indefinitely for equality with the rest of the UK. It is time for Westminster to put right that wrong,” Lord Hayward added.

LGBT+ campaigners in Northern Ireland expressed support for Lord Hayward’s amendment.

“This is a welcome move from Lord Hayward. More than two years after the collapse of Northern Ireland’s devolved government, we need legislators at Westminster to secure equal marriage for all,” said Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director at Amnesty International and a member of the Love Equality campaign for equal marriage in Northern Ireland.

He added: “If Stormont returns, we are happy to continue our work with MLAs across the parties to change the law, but meanwhile, equality can’t wait.”

Widespread support for marriage equality in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland where same-sex couples cannot get married—they can only enter civil partnerships.

Recent surveys indicate widespread support for equal marriage both among citizens and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which however cannot sit without a power-sharing agreement in place.

On January 9, the date marking two years since the collapse of Northern Ireland’s power sharing government, Stonewall chief executive Ruth Hunt and Frances O’Grady of the Trades Union Congress signed a joint letter to May, urging her to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the region in the absence of a government.

A petition set up by Amnesty International in support of a lesbian couple seeking to get married in Belfast on Valentine’s Day has gathered more than 35,000 signatures.