Belfast Telegraph

Free Commons vote could bring same sex marriage to Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley arrives at Downing Street yesterday
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley arrives at Downing Street yesterday
Conor McGinn
Patrick Corrigan
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Same-sex marriage campaigners are urging Prime Minister Theresa May to directly intervene and change the law in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

They said they had no faith that Stormont would sort out the issue and, on the basis of a leaked DUP-Sinn Fein proposed agreement, the LGBT community was facing "four more years of second-class citizenship".

Activists were speaking after Secretary of State Karen Bradley said same-sex marriage could be introduced in Northern Ireland via Westminster.

She said that while it should be a matter for the Assembly, the Government would allow a free vote on the issue if it was raised in Parliament.

Mrs Bradley was responding to a written question from Northern Ireland-born Labour MP Conor McGinn, who asked if she would bring forward legislative proposals on equal marriage here.

Patrick Corrigan of the Love Equality campaign called on the Government to "actively intervene to bring the marriage law in Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK".

While an Irish Language Act was reportedly included in the DUP-Sinn Fein draft deal, there was no agreement on same-sex marriage, which Stormont sources say Sinn Fein effectively dropped as a red line issue.

Mr Corrigan welcomed the "positive tone" of Mrs Bradley's statement that the Government would allow a free vote on equal marriage for Northern Ireland but said it wasn't enough.

He said: "In every other jurisdiction in the UK and Ireland, it has been Government legislation which has ensured equality for same-sex couples. The rights of LGBT people in Northern Ireland to be treated equally should not be left to the lottery of the Private Member's Bill process." Several attempts in the Assembly to introduce marriage equality have failed. The DUP used a petition of concern to veto the Bills, arguing that such legislation did not command enough cross-community support.

A DUP spokesman said: "The DUP has mandated policy to defend the current definition of marriage. We stand by that commitment whether it be in Westminster, Stormont or Brussels."

Meanwhile, broadcaster Eamonn Mallie last night published parts of the draft agreement being worked on by the DUP and Sinn Fein before talks collapsed.

It confirms that same-sex marriage would be relegated to a Private Member's Bill.

It also appears to confirm the three-stranded approach previously reported on language and culture - a proposal for an Act for Irish, another for Ulster-Scots and a Respecting Language and Diversity Bill. However, the relevant section was within square brackets - indicating that this had not been agreed yet.

The draft document also reveals that there would potentially be a review of the petition of concern, the controversial veto mechanism that had been used to block legislation such as same-sex marriage, despite a majority of MLAs voting in favour of it.

And there appeared to be agreement that a committee would be set up to consider the creation of a Bill of Rights.

The time for the election of a First and Deputy First Minister would also be extended from one to six weeks after an election, and a committee set up to "avoid surprises" by heading potential problems for the two main parties off at the pass.

Belfast Telegraph


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