Ian McKellen urges Northern Ireland to legalise same-sex marriage
One of the UK's most acclaimed actors has called on Northern Ireland to catch up with the rest of Britain and Ireland and legalise same-sex marriage.
Sir Ian McKellen said it was "rather unseemly" that Northern Ireland was out of step with both the Republic and the rest of the UK.
The Oscar-nominated 76-year-old gay star, best known for his portrayal of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films, welcomed the Republic's historic move to becoming the first country in the world to legalise same-sex unions through a referendum.
But the public vote, he said, was just confirmation of the progress that had been gathering pace in recent times.
"Whenever the vote came through, that wasn't the big turning point. The turning point had been already happening and this was confirmation that Ireland had changed," he told BBC Breakfast.
"That leads on to the future very well indeed."
Sir Ian, currently starring in the film Mr Holmes, about the later life of Sherlock Holmes, added: "I hope, as a result, Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, will catch up with the rest of us now and bring in same-gender marriage, because it's rather unseemly that that little bit of, corner of our country, doesn't have quite as liberal laws as the rest."
Amnesty International's programme director for Northern Ireland Patrick Corrigan said he hoped Northern Ireland's law-makers were "listening".
Same-sex marriage is now legal in some 20 countries across the world. The first same-sex marriages were allowed to take place in England and Wales in March last year, following the passing of legislation in 2013.
In Scotland, gay people were allowed to be wed last December and those joined by civil partnerships were permitted to transfer their contracts into legal marriage.
Rallies in support of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland have been held in Belfast in recent months, including one last Saturday which attracted an estimated 20,000 people.
The Assembly has debated same-sex marriage four times in the past two years, but it has always been rejected.
Mr Corrigan said the actor's support for gay marriage was "a reminder of how much we are now out of step with the rest of the UK and Ireland on civil marriage for same-sex couples".
"We hope our legislators are listening, not just to Sir Ian McKellen, but the 20,000 people who marched in Belfast in Saturday and the majority of people throughout Northern Ireland who want our law brought into line with the rest of the UK and Ireland."