Celebration as Northern Ireland wakes to legalisation of same-sex marriage

There are scenes of celebration across Northern Ireland today as the country wakes to the news that same-sex marriage and abortion have been legalised, joining the rest of the UK.

A last ditch attempt to oppose the legislation was led by DUP and UUP members, who on the eve of the deadline tried to reform Northern Ireland’s devolved government, Stormont, for the first time since March 2017.

Fortunately they were unable to gain enough cross-party support to undermine the law, and the first same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland are now due to take place on Valentine’s Day 2020.

DUP leader Arlene Foster described it as a “terribly sad” and “shameful day” – but the rest of the country doesn’t seem to think so.

There were celebrations throughout the country, but none more enthusiastic than in Belfast’s LGBT+ quarter, where joyful crowds gathered to count the seconds until the law passed at midnight.

As the clock struck 12, the crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of: “We can love who we want to love, we can marry who we want to marry, and they can do nothing about it! We are equals, we are who we are, and we are proud to be who we are.”

Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neil, whose party’s opposition to the DUP and UUP was key in passing the critical legislation, congratulated “all those that have campaigned over the decades for these fundamental rights.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn recognised the “historic moment” for women’s rights and equal marriage.

Actress Nicola Coughlan, who plays Clare in the hit Northern Irish sitcom Derry Girls, recalled the moment when she and her co-star Siobhán McSweeney joined protests for abortion and marriage equality.

She included a special shoutout to “all the wee lesbians” who can “finally be treated as equal in their own country.”

And Irish Drag Race UK star Blu Hydrangea was spreading the good news too.

Several Irish same-sex couples told the Belfast Telegraph it was a life-changing moment for them.

“When we got engaged three-and-a-half years ago we pinned our colours to the mast and said we would wait until there was marriage equality,” said Shane Sweeney, who has been with his partner Owen McCabe for nearly eight years.

Laura Robinson from Carrickfergus added: “It’s a momentous occasion. For me, there’s been a two-tier system in Northern Ireland for quite some time. It’s important that our love and family is just as valid as everyone else.

“I think, in particular, it sends a positive message to young LGBT people starting to grow up and come out in our society.”

Her partner, Jayne Robinson, explained that celebrating their civil partnership with family and friends had been “fantastic” but the distinction from civil marriage also made it “bittersweet”.

“I wouldn’t change our day for the world, but this validation now is very important to us.”