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Poll: Thousands add their name to petition calling for Northern Ireland referendum on gay marriage

Meanwhile Northern Ireland's largest gay and lesbian support organisation has said a referendum on marriage equality is not the answer

By Claire Williamson and Michael McHugh

Published 01/05/2015

The director the Rainbow Project has hit out at the Northern Ireland Assembly over the issue of same-sex marriage
The director the Rainbow Project has hit out at the Northern Ireland Assembly over the issue of same-sex marriage

More than 11,000 people have added their name to an online petition calling for a Northern Ireland referendum on gay marriage.

The petition was launched by Newtownabbey man Christopher Torbitt and has gathered momentum in its first two days of going live.

In just over an hour the petition had generated more than 100 signatures.

Writing on the petition on Change.org Christopher said: "For over thirty years this little country has been plagued by bitter, bigoted, sectarian issues that even today are still (unfortunately) finding roots. 

"Thankfully in today's society this is a considerable minority as most of the inhabitants here want to move beyond to a bright and prosperous Northern Ireland where everyone is treated with respect, dignity and equality.

"This is not a political issue.  This is not "orange and green".  This is simply about people who love one another so much that they would like to spend the rest of their lives together."

It comes as the Deputy First Minister was speaking on the UTV Northern Ireland election debate which was, for the first time, broadcast right across the UK on Tuesday night.

Martin McGuinness proposed a referendum to settle the vexed issue of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile Northern Ireland's largest gay and lesbian support organisation has said a referendum on marriage equality is not the answer.

The DUP has rejected the proposal for a poll from Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

Earlier this week, a proposal in the Northern Ireland Assembly to have gay marriage legalised in Northern Ireland was rejected.

Monday marked the fourth time the divisive issue has been defeated at the Stormont Assembly and came hours after under-pressure DUP health minister Jim Wells resigned amid controversy over remarks about same sex relationships.

It was defeated by 49 votes to 47, a majority of just two for maintaining the status quo.

The motion was brought forward by Sinn Fein.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have distanced themselves from some of the party's views on gay rights.

John O'Doherty, director of the Rainbow Project, said: "We must remember that a referendum in the UK has no binding legal effect.

"Even if the public were to vote in favour of marriage equality, the Assembly would have to pass enabling legislation and as we have seen this week, the Assembly is incapable of making this necessary legal change."

The DUP could win up to 10 seats following the General Election and their votes may be sought after by any coalition in a hung parliament.

Leader Peter Robinson has said the party would not be recognising the marriage of a gay couple but said it was catered for within the scope of the existing law by way of a civil partnership.

A referendum on the issue is due in the Republic of Ireland within days.

Mr O'Doherty added: "I think that everyone in our community is pleased to see the strides taken towards equal marriage in the south, although we know a yes vote cannot be taken for granted.

"We are not afraid of a referendum on marriage equality in Northern Ireland and numerous polls have shown that a majority of the population is in favour of recognising same-sex marriages."

He said: "It is clear to us, that without a legislative remedy to this on-going injustice, the only option is for the courts to strike down the irrational and illogical patchwork of marriage laws across the UK.

"There are same-sex couples in Northern Ireland who are married. They were lawfully married in the UK and they remain lawfully married.

"By saying that someone stops being married when they come home to Northern Ireland, the state is engaging in unlawful discrimination and this must be corrected."

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt supported a referendum in principle.

"If we are going to ask the people to go to the trouble of voting on a specific issue, why not take the opportunity to ask a number of questions? Do the people endorse those changes to the Belfast Agreement? Do they want a single education system? Do they want devolution crashed rather than resolve the impasse on welfare reform?

"Do they want an Official Opposition at Stormont, which, by the way, is already a failure in terms of the Stormont House Agreement, given the Agreement states that the issue of opposition should have been resolved by the end of March.

"Beyond that, if we wish to focus on public policy matters, what about abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty?

"Under those circumstances, I would be content that we ask the people directly for their views on same sex marriage."

Further Reading:

Slim majority in Northern Ireland supports same sex marriage law

 

Belfast Telegraph poll - from abortion and same-sex marriage to a border referendum  

Alliance's Naomi Long and Judith Cochrane attend same church - but hold opposing views on same-sex marriage

Gay marriage vote 'not the answer'

DUP minister Jim Wells quits after gay abuse comments controversy

Jim Wells' full resignation statement: My first duty will always be to Grace and I can no longer dedicate the time my department demands  

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