Campaigners to gather in Belfast for same-sex marriage parade
More than 3,000 people are expected to gather in the centre of Belfast to say "I Do" to marriage equality.
Campaigners are gearing up for a march and rally in support of same-sex marriage in the city today.
The march begins at the Ulster University at York Street at 2.30pm and will end with speeches outside City Hall.
The Northern Ireland campaign for the introduction of same-sex marriage has been buoyed by the success of the recent referendum in the Republic - and by a wave of celebrity endorsements from the world of sport, music and theatre.
Olympic boxer Paddy Barnes is the latest public figure to back to equal marriage campaign.
He said: "Although I can't be there in person at the march and rally, I want to voice my complete support for civil marriage equality.
"I'm hoping to be married myself and I believe that everyone should be able to marry the person they love; it's as simple as that.
"It's going to be a fantastic day on Saturday and I would urge everyone to get down to Belfast city centre to support this."
The Olympic boxer joins Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, Brian Kennedy, Bronagh Gallagher and Stephen Rea in supporting the right for same-sex couples to get married in Northern Ireland.
Actress and singer Gallagher will perform with the LGBT group Quire at the rally.
Singer Kennedy, currently on tour in Australia, sent a heartfelt message of support.
"I can't tell you how proud I feel when complete strangers at these gigs on the other side of the world say how proud they are that the Republic of Ireland voted a resounding yes for marriage equality. Now it's the turn of the good people of Northern Ireland," he said.
"Every gay person deserves to feel equal.
"I don't want to be 'tolerated' by anybody and the only place I should seek permission to be married is from the heart of my beloved.
"Please come to the rally and show your support for what is a basic human right.
"I will be with you in spirit on the day and you will certainly see me in person very soon to physically lend my support."
The demonstration has been organised jointly by Amnesty International, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and The Rainbow Project.
For: Unite to support the fearful - Lyra McKee
Recently, I was at a party, listening to a straight, white, fiftysomething man talk about his gay best friend.
He lives in fear of 'coming out'. "I don't know why he won't do it. I keep telling him to just come out with it," he said.
"I just don't understand why he won't." Any gay person reading those lines will recognise that scenario.
There's always one person whose love you fear losing, one bad reaction you replay in your mind over and over again - before it's even happened. In Northern Irish society, homosexuality still carries a stigma. For many, the closet is still the safest place to hide.
That's why today's equal marriage rally is so important. It's not just a cry for equality but an opportunity for the community - gay, straight, bisexual, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, non-denominational - to join together and send a message to those who are still afraid. It will be a long time before homophobia is uttered in the same breath as racism and sexism and recognised as equally as vile as those prejudices. Gatherings like this show that change is coming, even if it's coming slow.
It also helps place LGBT rights on the public agenda in a way that they haven't been before. When hundreds - maybe thousands - gather for the rally today, you can guarantee that the folks on the hill will be watching.
And they know the world is watching them in return. For years, gay people have largely been silent in NI, with the exception of a few brave voices in the wilderness - like Jeff Dudgeon - speaking out.
Today's rally shows we're no longer alone.
- Lyra McKee is a gay freelance journalist living in Belfast
Against: A freedom and a right are different things - Peter Lynas
This weekend Belfast will host two marches in the name of freedom, rights and equality.
On Saturday marchers will take to the streets of Belfast demanding their right to free and equal access to marriage.
But before that, on Friday night, marchers will head to Twaddell to demand their right to free and equal access to a public road.
Perhaps the organisers should get together given their shared aims!
Of course, not everyone agrees that these marches are really about freedom, rights and equality.
Possibly because not everyone agrees what these terms actually mean.
Try to define equality in a sentence.
It is a strangely circular term, with no substantive moral content of its own.
If equality were really the aim of the marriage marchers, they would surely seek to enhance the civil partnership legislation - ensuring recognition for two equal but fundamentally different relationships.
Freedom is in danger of confused with 'me-dom' - the state of being free with the state of being me. The State has always limited freedom, whether to march or to marry. Absolute freedom leads to anarchy - everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes. Meaningful freedom is choosing to forego some personal freedom for the greater freedom and good of society.
Those seeking to redefine marriage are pushing to change it from a relationship to a right. That relational context is also important for the Twaddell marchers to bear in mind as their right to parade is curtailed by responsibilities to their literal neighbours.
Northern Ireland stands with the vast majority of countries in the world in recognising marriage between a man and woman.
No doubt both marches this weekend will attract large crowds, but nothing to the 3-400,000 people who will attend church this and every Sunday. And on Monday many Christians will march to the beat of different drum running toddler groups, after-school clubs, food banks and debt counselling services working for freedom, equality and rights.
- Peter Lynas is the NI Director of the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland