Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland same-sex backers send May a message

Protesters in Belfast vow to ratchet up campaign

By David Young

Theresa May has been warned that the campaign for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland is not going away.

Several thousand activists marched through Belfast at the weekend to demand an end to the ban on gay marriage.

Demonstrators said they would not support a revived Executive if it was not accompanied by an overhaul of the petition of concern, the controversial voting mechanism that has blocked a law change here.

The UK Government has come under pressure to legislate on the issue amid the ongoing absence of power-sharing.

Speaking at Saturday's rally, Armagh-born Labour MP Conor McGinn, who failed in a recent bid to change the law through a Private Member's Bill at Westminster, warned Mrs May that they would not give up the fight.

"The message from the thousands here today in Belfast is loud and clear," he said. "It is a message for the Prime Minister and the Government, and it is: we love equality, we stand with LGBT couples, we demand the same rights as everyone else in the UK and the island of Ireland, and we want equal marriage now. We are on the right side of history.

"We will not give up. This is not going away. And we are going to win."

A majority of MLAs backed the introduction of same-sex marriage the last time it was debated at Stormont, but the DUP blocked it using a petition of concern.

The petition ensures a proposal can only be passed if a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalist MLAs support it, rather than a straightforward majority head count.

John O'Doherty, a prominent activist with the Love Equality coalition campaigning for a law change, told the rally that any future deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein needed to encompass reform of the petition. "We know that at least 55 out of 90 MLAs now back equal marriage. Yet still they cannot deliver," he said.

"No party or group of MLAs should hold a veto over people's lives, over people's rights - and this campaign will not be held to ransom by those who seek to hold Northern Ireland back, who refuse to recognise the rights of LGBT people and our families."

Paula Keenan and her partner Pauline Dempsey, who got married in Dublin as they were unable to in Belfast, were among those at the parade.

"As we head home from Dublin, about 56 miles up the road we are suddenly no longer married," Ms Keenan said.

"Doesn't matter if it's a hard border or a soft border, we're stripped of our rights as soon as we cross it.

"What kind of logic is that? It makes as much sense as Northern Ireland's abortion laws - and they don't make any sense at all."

Actor Bronagh Waugh, who is heavily involved in the campaign, called on Mrs May to "deliver on the promise of equality".

"There can be no second-class citizens in the UK or Ireland," she said.

"Theresa May, we have a message for you. Prime Minister, it is unacceptable that your Government is now colluding in the denial of human rights to people in Northern Ireland.

"We are not second-class citizens. We refuse to be treated as second-class citizens."

Belfast Telegraph

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