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Why we must act now to bring marriage equality to Northern Ireland

Nick Karvounis via Unsplash

Northern Ireland is part of the UK, where equal marriage became a reality in 2014 in England and Wales and in 2015 in Scotland. It borders the Republic of Ireland, where people voted in 2015 to make marriage equal.

In opinion polls, 70% of the population in Northern Ireland say they support giving equal rights to their fellow citizens. A clear majority of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly say they support marriage equality. Thousands of people took to the streets in July calling for marriage equality.

But people in same-sex relationships are still denied the fundamental right to marry the one they love. Northern Ireland still does not have equal marriage. And this doesn’t just affect those who live there: all same-sex married UK citizens travelling to Northern Ireland have their marriage downgraded automatically.

There is a very strong possibility that this is about to change. For years, the Democratic Unionists (DUP) have effectively vetoed marriage equality, repeatedly blocking legislation that would bring marriage equality to all citizens of the UK. But the DUP may be about to lose this bargaining chip following the collapse of inter-party talks to restore devolved government.

The Westminster Government has already passed a budget for Northern Ireland earlier this month. It is possible that this is the first step towards direct rule from Westminster and is, therefore, a moment of opportunity to sidestep the DUP’s homophobic blocking tactics.

There is no doubt that a majority of MPs in the UK Parliament would like to see marriage equality come to Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister herself wrote earlier this month:

“….marriage should be for everyone, regardless of their sexuality. And while that is a matter for the devolved government of Northern Ireland, I will continue to make my position clear – the LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland should have the same rights as people across the UK.”

The DUP is unlikely to give up on its opposition to equality any time soon. Politicians from this party have called LGBTQ people “repulsive” and “unnatural” and have stated that children raised in LGBTQ families are more likely to be abused or neglected.

The Northern Ireland Executive has failed to do its job. It has failed to represent the will of the people. The talks on devolved government have failed and there is now a unique moment in which popular pressure can defeat the outdated religious bigotry of the DUP.

Now is the time to bring equality and dignity to thousands. To people like Jayne and Laura who feature in a new campaign from All Out and Love Equality.

Jayne and Laura are in a committed and loving relationship, bringing up their six year old daughter, Abbie, together. They are sick of being treated as political pawns and insulted by DUP politicians. They just want the simple right to do what loving couples everywhere else in the UK and Ireland can do – express their love and commitment by getting married. And there is a real chance that this could become a reality.

Click here to join the call to Theresa May to act immediately to extend equal marriage rights to Jayne, Laura and all citizens of the UK. It is time.

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