Belfast Telegraph

Lesbian teacher hails thousands at Belfast rally for same-sex marriage

By Michelle Smyth

A lesbian teacher praised everyone involved in the same-sex marriage rally in Belfast at the weekend.

Hilary Donnan from Hazelwood Integrated College in north Belfast, attended the rally with her Gay, Straight, Whatever support group made up of pupils and teachers from the school.

She described the vibe in the city on Saturday as "outstanding" and said it was great to see so many people out to show their support.

"The atmosphere was one of love, respect and joy. Our 20-strong group meet regularly to chat, organise events and plan ways to combat homophobic bullying and language. We feel strongly that love is love and that same-sex couples should have the same rights to civil marriage as heterosexual couples," she said.

Thousands of supporters of same-sex marriage poured into the city.

A police spokeswoman said the application to the Parades Commission was for an expected attendance of 5,000, but the gathering seemed to be far in excess of this, with organisers claiming up to 20,000 people took part.

A Parades Commission spokeswoman said: "There was no determination issued as it wasn't deemed a sensitive parade. Therefore there wasn't any restriction on numbers or breach made."

One group not getting into the spirit of the parade were local traders, who reported that footfall was down during the rally.

While bars and restaurants did good business on a sunny afternoon, other retailers were not so happy as the commercial centre was brought almost to a halt.

President of Belfast Chamber of Commerce Paul McMahon called for all major rallies to take place outside main trading hours.

"We've been consistent in our message to event organisers planning parades of any nature in the city - that the core trading hours of between 12pm and 6pm on a Saturday are protected and free from any disruption," he said.

"Absolutely bonkers" and "pathetic" was how one Church of Ireland clergyman described those in opposition to gay marriage.

Canon Charles Kenny from the Church of Ireland's gay rights group said: "We should be challenging them, asking them how they justify their immense anger against gays."

Actress Bronagh Waugh said she was at the rally - organised by Amnesty International, Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Rainbow Project - to stand up for people close to her who are gay.

Amnesty International's NI programme director Patrick Corrigan said it was "unacceptable" for the state to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity.

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