Same-sex marriage campaigners meet the DUP at Stormont
Campaigners expressed disappointment that the DUP has not dropped opposition to gay marriage legislation at Stormont.
An activist group spearheading the campaign for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland has met the Democratic Unionists for the first time.
The DUP opposes changes to marriage legislation in the region and its use of a contentious Stormont voting mechanism has effectively blocked reform in the past.
The issue is one of the key disputes at the heart of the year-long powersharing crisis in the region, with Sinn Fein citing a law change as a prerequisite to the re-establishment of a devolved government.
A DUP team led by former health minister Edwin Poots held a 45-minute meeting with the campaign group Love Equality NI at Parliament Buildings.
The exchange took place as political talks aimed at restoring powersharing continue at Stormont.
Afterwards, John O’Doherty, from Love Equality NI, welcomed the meeting but expressed disappointment that the DUP had not changed its stance.
“The DUP remains unfortunately opposed to the introduction of equal marriage,” he said.
Mr O’Doherty said the party was less clear on whether it would attempt to use the petition of concern mechanism again.
The petition is a peace process construct designed to protect minority interests within the Assembly.
If 30 members of the 90-strong legislature sign a petition of concern, votes can only be carried with the support of a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalist members, rather than a straight headcount.
If the Assembly was restored, the DUP would not have enough MLAs to trigger a petition on its own, but it could potentially join forces with other socially conservative members to reach the 30 threshold.
Mr O’Doherty said: “If this issue was brought forward through a private member’s bill or through the executive it would achieve majority support, the only barrier to the introduction of equal marriage would be a petition of concern.”
He added: “They (the DUP) did not state categorically that they would use the petition of concern but they didn’t state that they wouldn’t use the petition of concern.”
Mr O’Doherty said the fact the meeting had taken place was a positive development.
“We want to achieve the position where equality for everyone is celebrated by everyone for Northern Ireland,” he said.
“No-one has anything to fear from equality, no-one has anything to fear from marriage equality and that is the message we want to bring to everybody in Northern Ireland.”
A DUP spokeswoman said: “Edwin Poots MLA led a delegation to meet with Love Equality. The group asked for a meeting to lobby the party on the redefinition of marriage.
“The DUP has a mandated policy to defend the current definition of marriage.
“Lasting approximately forty-five minutes, this was a useful exchange of views. The debate about this matter can be highly energised. We would urge respect and sensitivity on all sides.”