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Now time for equal marriage in Northern Ireland

By Steven Agnew

For the fifth time the Assembly will next month debate a motion calling on the Executive to table legislation to allow for same-sex marriage. That means there have been four wasted opportunities to offer recognition and acceptance for same-sex couples which goes far beyond marriage.

The ultimate goal is for everyone to have the freedom to live, laugh, love and be whoever they want to be without fear of intimidation or insecurity.

This Assembly mandate has seen some of the most important events happen for the LGBTQ community across these islands. We have watched and cheered as our friends in Britain have heard their pleas for acceptance heard, with marriage equality enshrined in legislation.

The referendum in the Republic of Ireland was also a resounding endorsement for equality, with ordinary people making their views heard and demanding constitutional change.

Yet, in Northern Ireland, legislation still appears to be some way off, with a narrow majority opposing previous motions and the DUP wielding a petition of concern to block any progress should a majority be achieved.

However, if all MLAs of those parties who are supposed to be pro-marriage equality vote in line with party policy, we could see a majority voting in favour for the first time, which would be a significant mark of progress.

Yet, the SDLP's Alban Maginness has indicated he will not support it, and other SDLP MLAs have not in the past. It is surprising that a party that champions equality has such difficulty with this issue. It would seem that, for a number of their MLAs, some are more equal than others.

Similarly, will all eight Alliance MLAs vote in favour? Or are they still "on a journey"?

The Green Party has been at the forefront of the fight for marriage equality since introducing the first motion in 2011, working closely with our Queer Greens caucus to ensure representation.

The coming weeks will see intense lobbying by the LGBTQ community and their allies across the spectrum, as they continue to be forced to explain why they should have equality.

The Green Party will be voting in support of the motion.

Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

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