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My absence over gay vote deliberate: Alban Maginness

By Claire McNeilly

Published 04/11/2015

Abstention: Alban Maginness
Abstention: Alban Maginness

SDLP veteran Alban Maginness has insisted that his failure to vote on same-sex marriage wasn't a case of "not bothering to turn up".

The party initially said it could offer no reason as to why the North Belfast MLA didn't participate in the Stormont motion, and Mr Maginness could not be contacted on Monday night.

But speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday the SDLP justice spokesman said his intentions had been clear from the outset.

"It was a deliberate abstention on my part, agreed with the party, because I disagree with same-sex marriage," he said.

"I have said this on innumerable occasions, so it couldn't be a surprise to anybody.

"It was agreed between myself and the party Assembly group that I would abstain and therefore I would absent myself from the debate and the vote," he said.

Fifty-three MLAs supported the motion brought by the SDLP and Sinn Fein, while 52 voted against.

Had Mr Maginness voted against same-sex marriage, the Assembly would have been deadlocked at 53 votes for an against.

But Mr Maginness, who was in Parliament Buildings at the time, said he chose not to go into the chamber in person to abstain.

"An asbstention is an abstention whether you go through the lobby or not," he said.

Mr Maginness, who is also a barrister, said churches couldn't be compelled to perform same-sex marriages if they were legalised. "I don't think the churches could be forced. It would be outside the remit of the court to impose that on them," he said.

On Monday it was the first time a majority of MLAs had voted in favour of same-sex marriage, but the motion was blocked by a DUP petition of concern that required the proposal to achieve a cross-community majority.

It means Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK and Ireland where gay marriage is outlawed - but there are two same-sex legal challenges on the immediate horizon.

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