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Northern Ireland Assembly rejects motion for equal marriage

2015 08 24 Stormont by Robert Young

The Parliament Buildings in Belfast. Photo: Robert Young.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected proposals to legalise same-sex marriages for a fourth time.

In total, 49 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) voted against the motion on Monday, narrowly outnumbering the 47 in support of it. Opposition to the motion, which was introduced by Sinn Féin, came overwhelmingly from the governing Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). This victory for opponents to same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland comes hours after health minister Jim Wells was forced to resign after linking gay relationships with child abuse.

Though the Bill was only defeated by a narrow majority, it would not have passed even if a majority of MLAs had supported it. This is because the DUP filed a ‘petition of concern’, a device which requires legislation to have both unionist and nationalist backing in order to pass; only four of 53 unionist MLAs voted in favour of the motion. Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and five Alliance MLAs all voted in favour, while the Ulster Unionists were given a free vote.

During the debate, DUP Assembly member Peter Weir stated:

‘This is not a serious debate. Clearly this motion is an attack on the symbolism of marriage and the institution of marriage and an attempt to redefine marriage.

‘My party believes, and I believe also, that marriage is between one man and one woman and once you redefine that you lose the essence of marriage itself.’

However, recent data available from the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey shows that Weir’s attitude is increasingly unpopular among the Northern Irish public, with 58% of the population there supporting the introduction of same-sex marriage compared to 31% against.

The decision leaves equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Northern Ireland in a much worse state than their neighbours in Britain; the first same-sex marriages England and Wales took place in July 2014, while same-sex marriages have been happening in Scotland since December of that year.

British Humanist Association (BHA) Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal said, ‘The BHA has long supported LGBT rights and our celebrants have conducted same-sex humanist wedding ceremonies for decades. We have seen an incredible shift in public attitudes in that time across the United Kingdom, and it is extremely disappointing that the Northern Ireland Assembly has once again chosen to prevent same-sex couples from accessing their right to be married.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Campaigns and Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on pavan@humanism.org.uk or 07738435059.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in the law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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