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Couples urge Northern Irish politicians to legalise same-sex marriage

Published 01/11/2015

Jayne Robinson (left) and Laura McKee, one of the two couples who have pledged to invite Northern Ireland Assembly members to their weddings, if they vote to legalise them. Amnesty International/PA Wire.
Jayne Robinson (left) and Laura McKee, one of the two couples who have pledged to invite Northern Ireland Assembly members to their weddings, if they vote to legalise them. Amnesty International/PA Wire.
Malachai O'Hara and Michael McCartan (left), one of the two couples who have pledged to invite Northern Ireland Assembly members to their weddings, if they vote to legalise them. Amnesty International/PA Wire.
The issue of gay marriage divides public opinion in Northern Ireland, with vocal campaigners on both sides of the argument

Two same-sex couples have pledged to invite Northern Ireland Assembly members to their weddings, if they vote to legalise them.

The devolved Assembly will vote on a marriage equality proposal for the fifth time on Monday.

MLAs have rejected the introduction of gay marriage on the four previous occasions.

Following the signing into law of same-sex marriage legislation in the Republic of Ireland last week, Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK or Ireland where civil marriage is denied to same-sex couples.

Previous votes at Stormont have proved controversial, as unionists opposed to legalisation have used a contentious Assembly mechanism to effectively veto it.

A petition of concern has again been deployed by the Democratic Unionists ahead of Monday's vote - meaning the proposal is set to be rejected even if a majority of MLAs back it.

The mechanism means a proposal can only pass if a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists back it.

The issue of gay marriage divides public opinion in Northern Ireland, with vocal campaigners on both sides of the argument.

While advocates claim same sex couples are being denied the rights afforded to heterosexuals, a number of Christian organisations insist the institution of marriage should not be redefined.

Couples Jayne Robinson and Laura McKee and Michael McCartan and Malachai O'Hara plan to attend Monday's debate at Stormont dressed in wedding regalia.

Ms Robinson said: "I love Laura and I know she loves me. Just like most other couples in a long-term, committed relationship, we want to get married. At the moment our politicians are stopping us. We want them to take the politics out of our personal lives and give us the same rights as couples in the rest of the UK and Ireland.

"If the politicians pass a marriage equality law for Northern Ireland, we'll invite them to our wedding."

Mr O'Hara added: "Michael and I are ready and waiting to be a married couple. We shouldn't really have to ask the permission of 108 politicians at Stormont to do so.

"But we will be at the Assembly for the vote, because we want politicians to understand that their decisions affect real people's lives - ours.

"When the law changes - and it will sooner or later - Michael and I will get married and all the politicians who vote to make it happen will be welcome at the ceremony. Or at least for the disco after the meal."

Two other same-sex couples are currently seeking to overturn the Assembly's ban in Belfast High Court by way of a judicial review.

In the summer around 20,000 people marched in Belfast city centre demanding a law change.

In 2005 Northern Ireland became the first part of the UK to allow same sex civil partnerships.

The four previous votes on gay marriage at Stormont would have fallen on a simple majority basis, regardless of whether a petition of concern was tabled.

Peter Lynas from the Evangelical Alliance said examining potential reform of civil partnership legislation was a better way to address concerns raised by the LGBT community.

"The Evangelical Alliance supports marriage between a man and woman as it's understood in the majority of countries around the world," he said.

"If the latest motion in Stormont is really about equality then we are happy to have a discussion about how you fix the civil partnership legislation - we think that's the way to do it.

"But the reality is in a democratic society that we live in we have had four votes, all of which have been won democratically, and really we think there are plenty more things we should be looking at rather than another vote on this issue."

However, Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan expressed hope a majority of MLAs would vote in favour of same sex marriage on Monday.

"I am hopeful that tomorrow will see a majority of MLAs vote in favour of marriage equality for first time, slowly catching up with where public opinion has already been for some years," he said.

"However, the misuse of the petition of concern to hold back rather than uphold the rights of a minority group, will mean that the motion is formally defeated.

"It is a tragedy that same-sex couples are forced to ask the courts to fulfil a responsibility which has been abdicated for too long by too many politicians."

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