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Two Parliamentary Motions for the Legalisation of Gay Marriage in Northern Ireland
(Blogmensgo, gay blog of April 1st, 2018) Labour MEP Conor McGinn and Conservative Lord Hayward have tabled motions in the House of Commons (28 March) and House of Lords (27 March) to legalize same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland. A previous parliamentary motion to legalize gay marriage in Northern Ireland had failed in November 2015. Northern Ireland remains the only large territory of the British Isles and Channel Islands that has not yet legalized same-sex marriage, and homosexual marriages contracted abroad are not currently recognized either.
A new motion to open marriage to same-sex couples could not be made directly in the Northern Ireland Parliament because of a 15-month political-parliamentary vacuum in Northern Ireland, which is why the applications were now made in Westminster and not in Belfast. To this end, the two Members of the British Parliament have tabled the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill, which can now become a legislative initiative.
Parliament's bypass in Belfast also aims to avoid the failure of 2015: This was Northern Ireland's fifth parliamentary attempt to legalize gay marriages within three years. At that time, the Protestant and conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) vetoed the parliamentary majority for gay marriage (even if only with one vote).
Lord Howard's motion calls for the legalization of same-sex marriages, the recognition of gay and lesbian marriages contracted abroad, the harmonization of social security and pension benefits for all couples (i.e. for married couples and civil partnerships) and a less gender-specific language in public administration. The text was neither discussed nor rejected at first reading on 27 March. It will now be submitted to the House of Lords for a second reading.
The British Conservative Party did not impose any parliamentary pressure on the text presented in the lower house of the British parliament, McGinn said shortly before submitting his own motion.
Conor McGinn defended his motion in the House of Commons on 28 March 2018, Labour MEP Ged Killen then questioned Prime Minister Theresa May, reminding her of the 15 months of inaction in the Northern Ireland parliament and calling on her to act rather than engage in DUP tactics.
Theresa May stated that she would not intervene to legalize gay marriage in Northern Ireland. She is not in favor of the DUP (which supports the May government, however) or against same-sex marriages, but believes that due to British decentralization laws, the responsibility for the introduction of gay marriage lies in Stormont (Belfast) and not in Westminster (London).
Some time earlier, the written response of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to a parliamentary question said: “Same sex marriage is a question of decentralization”. The NIO went on to say that Westminster's parliament was still free to legislate on this subject, provided that there was free voting (i.e. without group pressure). In other words, the NIO leaves open the question of jurisdiction in the legalization of gay marriage in Northern Ireland.
In purely arithmetical terms, the DUP can no longer veto without the support of another party. It won only 28 seats in the last parliamentary elections, but requires at least 30 votes (out of 90 seats) for a veto. Parliament’s work will therefore depend on the agreements between the DUP and the other parties. All other parties in Northern Ireland, i.e. about 55 out of 90 votes, are generally in favor of gay marriage.
The Love Equality lobby group is calling for marriage for all couples in Northern Ireland and filed a petition signed by 46,000 people at 10 Downing Street (the UK Prime Minister’s official residence) on 28 March 2018. This current petition has more than twice as many signatures as the previous one from 2016 on this subject.
In Northern Ireland there is broad support for the legalization of gay marriage according to all surveys. An Ipsos-Mori survey of 2015 showed that 68% of adults agreed (in the following year the rate was at 70%). A LucidTalk survey of 2017 showed 61% agreement. In mid-2017, another survey showed that 44% of DUP supporters are in favor of gay marriage and only 42% are against it.
Some leading unionists (supporters of Northern Ireland’s political affiliation to Britain) propose to include the topic of gay marriage with the issues on which a referendum could soon be held in Northern Ireland. Voters could then decide on issues such as gay marriage, abortion, the Brexit as well as the relations with Britain and Ireland.