Northern Ireland equal marriage activists: UK government ‘doesn’t care’

Recent surveys show majority of people in Northern Ireland supports same-sex marriage.

Activists have accused the UK government of “not caring” about equal marriage in Northern Ireland, after a car crash meeting with Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley.

Karen Bradley met with LGBT+ campaigners from Northern Ireland on Monday (March 18) who are fighting to break the impasse that has left Northern Ireland as the only part of the UK without equal marriage.

Although Northern Ireland’s devolved government collapsed more than two years ago, the UK government has resisted pressure to directly impose a settlement on same-sex marriage, instead telling campaigners to wait until a hypothetical new power-sharing deal is agreed.

Northern Ireland activists: Karen Bradley ‘seems content for us to be second-class citizens’

Representatives of the Love Equality coalition condemned the government’s failure to act after the meeting with Bradley and junior Northern Ireland minister Lord Duncan of Springbank.

Cara McCann, Director of HereNI, told PinkNews: “Today’s meeting was hugely disappointing.

“Karen Bradley simply reiterated the government’s policy of inaction on marriage equality, effectively committing it to ongoing discrimination against same-sex couples in Northern Ireland.

“Sadly, the Secretary of State, far from upholding the rights of LGBT people in Northern Ireland, seems content for us to live as second-class citizens within the UK.”

Cara McCann of HereNI and Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International with Northern Ireland Office Minister, Lord Duncan of Springbank

Cara McCann of HereNI and Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International with Northern Ireland Office Minister, Lord Duncan of Springbank

McCann added: “Five years on from same-sex marriage becoming law in England and Wales, the United Kingdom as a whole still does not have marriage equality and the government does not seem to care.

“The barrier to the introduction of full marriage equality across the UK is now clearly Theresa May’s government. Frankly, the Prime Minister has done more to ensure the introduction of equal marriage in Australia than she has for Northern Ireland.

“Karen Bradley has stated that her number one priority is the return of devolution, yet has failed to convene inter-party talks for more than a year. Meanwhile, she expects LGBT citizens living in Northern Ireland to accept second-class status.

“We ask all the people of the UK to stand with us, to recognise that an inequality for one of us is an inequality for all of us – and that the denial of our rights is a risk to your rights. Either all of the UK has marriage equality, or none of us have.”

UK government slammed for ‘hypocritical’ stance on equal marriage

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International, also condemned the government over its “hypocritical” stance.

He said: “If Karen Bradley can introduce Northern Ireland legislation at Westminster for everything from RHI boilers to MLAs’ expenses, then she can extend marriage rights to loving couples who just want equal treatment under the law.”

The Northern Ireland Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a previous statement, Bradley said the government would allow a free vote on an equal marriage bill in Westminster, but added: “In accordance with the Belfast Agreement, this is a devolved matter which should be addressed in the NI Assembly.”

However,  in an interview with PinkNews in February, equalities minister Baroness Williams rejected calls for a direct settlement.

She said: “Not only do I sympathise with with that point of view, I agree with it. But it’s also important to acknowledge that it is a devolved matter.

“We absolutely would love the devolved administration in Northern Ireland to introduce it, but we need that administration back up and running. I’m sure it will be soon.”

When PinkNews pointed out the government’s line on the issue had not changed in two years, Baroness Williams responded: “It has been the line for two years. But I think it’s very, very important to respect that what we devolve, we make sure that we do devolve it, and not interfere.”

Michelle O’Neill, the Northern Ireland leader of Irish Republican party Sinn Féin, told PinkNews in 2018 that she would support a direct settlement on the issue through an British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference.