Petition calls for legalisation of same sex marriage
A petition of 20,000 signatures calling for the legalisation of same sex marriage in Northern Ireland has been handed to Stormont's speaker.
The online petition, collated by LGBT news service The Gay Say, was handed to Robin Newton by People Before Profit Assembly Member Gerry Carroll at the start of plenary business on Tuesday.
Political attempts to change marriage laws in the region have been defeated five times in the Assembly.
Although a slim majority of MLAs voted in favour of lifting the ban when it was debated for a fifth time last November, the proposal fell when the Democratic Unionists deployed a controversial voting mechanism to effectively veto it.
Mr Carroll said the petition was a response to the DUP tactic.
"The signatures represent the feeling of the vast majority of people across society here that the DUP should end its veto on marriage equality, allow democracy to take its course and allow the Assembly to legislate for same-sex marriage," he said.
"While presenting the petition, I say this to the DUP: you are on the wrong side of history; you are on the wrong side of the fight for equality.
"History will not be kind to those who block progress and human rights. History will not be kind to those who block equality and deny rights to our LGBT brothers and sisters.
"The petition is a small but significant token of the groundswell of support amongst ordinary people for equality in our society.
"I say to those people: do not lose hope, keep marching, keep protesting and keep up the fight. What Stormont does, the people can undo. If we keep doing what we are doing, the sun will one day set on the deniers of equality, and the rainbow will rise.
The DUP, which is the largest party in the powersharing Assembly, has argued that same sex couples already have the ability to enter into civil partnerships and insisted the appetite is not there for further change.
In response to the petition, a DUP spokesman said: "The DUP position on same sex marriage has been outlined on each occasion the issue has been debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
"Our support for the current definition of marriage was also included in the manifesto for the 2016 Assembly election."
Mainstream churches in the region hold that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Advocates of a change point to a number of recent opinion polls that indicate a clear majority in Northern Ireland do not oppose same sex marriage.