New push for equal marriage in Northern Ireland

End the ban on same-sex couples. End the DUP veto

London & Belfast – 26 April 2016


“Marriage equality is now an election issue”, say Northern Irish campaigners in the wake of the new Love Equality campaign that has been launched in Belfast. They are lobbying all candidates in the run up to the 5 May Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

There is still a total ban on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

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Equal marriage has been vetoed five times by the Northern Ireland Assembly, primarily by members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Northern Ireland used to be the most homophobic region in Western Europe but not anymore.

The campaign for equal marriage has 68% public support, from both protestants and catholics. It also has the support of 50.5% of elected members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

However, the DUP has abused the ‘petition of concern’ procedure to block equality and uphold discrimination in marriage law. Against the wishes of the majority, it is maintaining the exclusion of same-sex couples from the right to marry.

In June 2015, an Ipsos/MORI found that 68% of those surveyed supported marriage equality. The figure rises to 82% among 16 to 34-year-olds and to 75% support among 35 to 54-year-olds, but falls to 47% among those aged 55 and over.

Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK or Ireland where equal marriage is barred by law. It is legal in England, Wales and Scotland.

Campaigners plan to change that with the launch of the Love Equality campaign, which aims to secure a change in the law over the course of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s next five-year term.

The campaign is jointly organised by Northern Ireland’s main LGBT organisations, Amnesty International and the trade union and student union movements. The Love Equality coalition say their campaign will continue until equal marriage rights become law in Northern Ireland.

“Ever since the Yes vote in the Republic of Ireland, marriage equality has become a big political issue for many voters – straight and gay – in Northern Ireland,” said John O’Doherty, one of the leaders of Love Equality and head of The Rainbow Project Northern Ireland:

“Last summer, 20,000 people marched through Belfast demanding marriage equality – one of the biggest political demonstrations Northern Ireland has seen in years. Those people haven’t gone away. On May 5th they will be looking for candidates who promise to deliver equality for everyone. Marriage equality is now an election issue.”

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director, noted:

“The people have spoken and it’s clear they don’t want Northern Ireland to be left behind on marriage equality. This poll shows support in Northern Ireland for equal marriage is even higher than in Ireland’s landslide referendum. Northern Ireland’s politicians are badly out of step with the people on marriage equality.”

Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner and Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, added:

“The DUP has a four-decade history of supporting discrimination against Northern Ireland’s LGBT community. For many years, it backed the total criminalisation of homosexuality, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The DUP resisted tooth and nail the partial decriminalisation of 1982; spearheading a vicious ‘Save Ulster From Sodomy’ campaign that demonised and vilified LGBT people.

“The party’s strident anti-gay agenda led to its MPs voting in the House of Commons against every LGBT law reform of the last 17 years, as documented by Stephen Donnan, the Northern Irish correspondent for Eile Magazine.

“DUP MPs trooped through the lobby at Westminster to vote in favour of retaining the legal right to discriminate against LGBT people in the military, education, adoption, employment, the age of consent, housing, IVF treatment, transgender recognition, criminal law and professional services.

“Successive DUP Health Ministers have maintained a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual blood donors; acting against the medical advice that led to the easing of the ban in England, Wales and Scotland. For many years the DUP opposed the right of same-sex couples to adopt children, the introduction of civil partnerships and the holding of LGBT Pride parades in cities like Belfast. It is currently the main obstacle to the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

“No wonder many people see the DUP as the Northern Irish equivalent of the BNP,” said Mr Tatchell.

Speaking ahead of the Love Equality launch were couples who want the law to give them the choice to get married.

Sally Bridge, 48, and Catherine Couvert, 53, live in Belfast. Sally said:

“We’ve been together for 15 years and raised two sons, two cats and a dog together! We’re very proud of our family. We want young LGBT people to grow up in a world where they don’t feel like second class citizens and we want families like ours to have equal rights.”

Shane Sweeney, 30, from Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh and Eoin Griffin, 24, from Belfast hope to get married as soon as the law in Northern Ireland allows it. Shane said:

“Eoin and I have been with each other for four years. I met him at a particularly low point in my life and I’d imagine a lot of other people would have just walked away but he didn’t. I knew he was special from the start. All couples will tell you that theirs is the best partner and pepper it with clichés but Eoin and I just work. Both of us are brutally honest, determined and head strong. They say if it’s right the honeymoon phase doesn’t end and all I can do is love him more each day.

“Skip forward to last September and I’d started thinking about getting engaged. We had both talked about it and had agreed that we’d say yes if the other asked. I knew where I was going to do it. Eoin and I love politics so the Berlin Wall was a natural choice of proposal. I got him to stand on one side of the demarcation line and I was on the other. I’d explained how the walls kept loved ones apart and how people used to put their hands to the gaps to touch. So I then got him to hold out his hand across the line and I pulled out the ring and asked him to marry me. He was crying, I was crying, the American tourists were crying and he said yes. Best day of my life so far.

“We’re having the engagement party in a few weeks with family and friends. Obviously we’ve been discussing wedding dates but we will wait until we get marriage equality. I know some of my friends are going to have civil partnerships but it’s not something Eoin or I would go for. Civil partnerships to me are second tier token gestures that make distinctions on the quality of your love. You’re good, but not quite as good. We will tolerate you but not hold you in parity of esteem. That’s not good enough.”