Artist behind Belfast mural calls for legalisation of same-sex marriage
The artist behind a new Belfast mural depicting a married lesbian couple has said he hopes it will make people stop and think.
The five storey piece of artwork has been painted on a gable wall at Hill Street in the vibrant cathedral quarter close to the city centre.
The work entitled Love Wins shows two local women who wed in the United States because Northern Ireland is the only region in the UK or Ireland where same sex marriage remains outlawed.
Street artist Joe Caslin, who rose to prominence with his huge mural of two men embracing in Dublin ahead of last year's historic referendum, said: "I'd love to see same sex marriage legalised in Northern Ireland, that's really the crux of it."
Last June up to 20,000 campaigners marched through Belfast city centre demanding a change in the law.
However Northern Ireland's devolved Stormont Assembly has repeatedly refused to legislate on the contentious issue.
Although a slim majority of MLAs voted in favour of lifting the ban when it was debated for a fifth time last November, the proposal fell when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deployed a controversial voting mechanism to effectively veto it.
Those opposed to gay marriage argue that same sex couples already have the ability to enter into civil partnerships and claim there is no appetite for further change.
The contentious matter is also being contested through the courts where two same sex couples have challenged the current law under human rights legislation.
Mr Caslin has argued gay people in Northern Ireland should have the same right to civil marriage as those living elsewhere.
He added: "In the Republic the question was put to the population who overwhelmingly voted yes and I believe that same question should be put to the people of Northern Ireland.
"If love is there it is one of the most basic connections of the human race and when you find it, you have to mind it."
The artist said he was captivated by the "love and spark" between the two women, whom he has chosen not to name adding: "This mural is tender and dignified and showcases the love that's there.
"There is no negativity in it at all.
"Belfast has an amazing culture of murals - first there were the political murals and then came the peace murals but it's now time for other things to be said.
"The city is moving into a new space - it is amazing and vibrant and it is great to be a part of that."
The mural has been put up to mark Belfast Pride which, this year, has the theme, We Are One.
After gaining planning permission, it was erected over two days with Mr Caslin catching just three hours' sleep during the lengthy painting process.
As in Dublin, the temporary biodegradable piece will disintegrate within a few months.
Kerb stones in some parts of the city centre have also been painted in rainbow colours - a welcome change from the use of paint to mark out territory along sectarian lines.
Mr Caslin said the response from members of the public had been hugely positive.
Teacher Marie McKnight from Belfast was among the dozens of onlookers who turned up to admire his offering.
She said: "I think it's fantastic. It is great that it is something that will highlight the issue and it is just lovely that the couple featured are local.
"I would however have liked a bit more colour - to make it a bit more vibrant because I think this city needs something that is a bit more in your face on this kind of issue."