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Election result gives blind gay couple fresh hope for marriage equality in Northern Ireland

By Rachel Martin

A blind same-sex couple hope to start planning their wedding day soon following the shock Assembly election result.

Andrea Hope and Diane Marks, from Newtownabbey, have been waiting to tie the knot since their engagement in December 2015 and are hopeful the law will soon change.

They met after their guide dogs caught each other's attention at a London awards ceremony in 2013, and their friendship quickly grew into a relationship.

While they have long considered marriage the next step, the law stood in their way. But Andrea said the election result had given them fresh hope.

"There has been a shift in the political landscape and it's time for equal marriage," she added.

"Politicians say they want to govern for everybody, but that includes people in the LGBTQ community and it also includes people with a disability.

"Being blind, being gay and being women, we believe that your political affiliation or religious beliefs shouldn't matter.

"We're the couple, we're the ones who are in love and we're the people who want to marry each other.

"I want to say yes to the dress, but I haven't been able to. Just like other couples, we want to plan, but we just can't. We can't plan anything because it's not legal here at the moment."

Diane added: "We feel that a civil partnership is a step down from being able to say to our family we are married.

"We should be at the same level as any straight couple. It annoys us. If we wanted to get married in Dublin, we could. But when we come back up here, it won't count, so what's the point?

"It would be a waste of money and we can't afford to do it twice. We want to be able to marry here where all our friends are. It makes us feel very much like second-class citizens."

Declan Meehan from Cara-Friend, an organisation that supports lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, called for political parties to unite and pass a law allowing same-sex marriage.

"For many people, the inability to pass marriage equality legislation in Northern Ireland was and is systematic of the dysfunctionality of Northern Irish politics," he said.

"A newly elected Assembly which cannot deliver marriage equality, despite a clear and significant majority of MLAs in favour of it, is a dysfunctional one and one which fails the people of Northern Ireland.

"We are calling on all parties to commit to legislating for marriage equality and to ensure this Assembly serves people who have long been left behind in Northern Ireland - the LGBTQ community."

Amnesty International, the Rainbow Project, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Here NI, Cara-Friend and NUS-USI are joining forces under the banner of 'Love Equality' to lobby politicians for the move.

Clare Moore Irish, from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said research showed two-thirds of Northern Ireland adults believed same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

"This popular support is now clearly reflected in the make-up of newly elected Assembly members," she added.

"A decisive majority of our new MLAs support marriage equality.

"Now is the time for our new Assembly to act decisively and listen to the will of the people.

"It's about valuing people - it's about value people's lives and valuing people's families."

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