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Gay marriage soon to be legalized in Northern Ireland?
(Blogmensgo, gay blog of 5 January 2020) After a political-parliamentary vacuum since the end of 2016 in Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, signed a new decree on 19 December 2019 to legalize gay marriage in Northern Ireland starting on 13 January 2020. Due to the twenty-eight-day ban, the first gay and lesbian couples will therefore be able to marry on 14 February 2020, Valentine’s Day, throughout Northern Ireland and particularly in the capital Belfast.
The date of entry into force of gay marriage in Northern Ireland was not chosen at random. Northern Ireland is currently the only area of the British Islands and the Channel Islands that has not legalized same-sex marriage, as even the tiny island of Sark has just decided to do so.
In March 2018, a cross-party motion was tabled by Labour MP Conor McGinn and the Conservative Lord Hayward in both houses of the British Parliament. A bill passed by the Westminster Parliament in July 2019 set 21 October 2019 as the deadline for the reactivation of a regional government with a parliament in Northern Ireland. Otherwise, the British Government and Parliament should automatically take over the responsibilities of their Northern Ireland counterparts. The institutional vacuum in Northern Ireland would thus have allowed London and Westminster to act in place of Belfast and Stormont.
On 19th December 2019, Minister Julian Smith approved the postponement of a possible political agreement that could end the institutional vacuum. London, or rather the document signed by Minister Smith, thus changes the terminology of Northern Ireland's legislation. Marriage therefore no longer applies to husband and wife, but now to two spouses.
Homophobes have realized that they cannot prevent the legalization of gay marriage in Northern Ireland on the pretext of religious belief, as government and parliament there will not resume its work until the new rules come into force.
Since the homophobic groups can no longer prevent this legalization, they are now trying to change its extent. Once again under the pretext of religion and freedom of expression, of course. The exact modalities of homosexual marriage have yet to be defined, especially with regard to possible exceptions or conscience clauses.
The ongoing negotiations indicate that the Northern Ireland Authority (NIO) may be in a position to allow a number of amendments or exemptions before the Act enters into force. The extent of these last minute changes has not yet been announced by the NIO. Christian organizations demand that pastors not be required to organize or participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. In the name of freedom of expression, they demand that criticism of same-sex marriage should not be considered an offence.
In addition, under the pretext of their own values, religious leaders also want to legalize homophobic discrimination, namely the right of religious organizations to dismiss anyone who marries a person of the same sex.
The future will show how the British government defines equal treatment. They will also have to decide on religious schools (exclusion or rejection of pupils if their parents form a homosexual couple?) and private employers (dismissal of an employee who marries a person of the same sex?), whether or not these companies are religious in nature.
The future will show as well to what extent Northern Ireland will follow in Ireland’s footsteps in relation to gay marriage. Anyway, Belfast will soon be open to all people who love each other. Belfast is also the title of an old Boney M song. A bit dusty, but also a classic: