Belfast Telegraph

Stormont blocks gay marriage during heated debate

A controversial proposal to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland has been rejected by the Assembly.

The Sinn Fein motion was voted down during a heated debate at Stormont.

Opponents of change said the state should not meddle in the religious ceremony of marriage but advocates vowed that one day the region would be brought into line with many other countries.

DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said: "The re-definition of marriage would represent a change of monumental significance. It must not happen in Northern Ireland."

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without marriage rights and Amnesty International has warned there could be a legal challenge.

This is the third time the matter has been brought to a vote and defeated following a veto by the largest party, the Democratic Unionists. MLAs voted 51 to 43 against the proposal.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International, said: "Politicians in Northern Ireland who continue to block marriage rights for same-sex couples are like latter-day King Canutes, trying in vain to hold back the tide of equality."

The Democratic Unionists tabled a contentious voting mechanism ahead of the debate, meaning the motion could only pass if a majority of both unionists and nationalists support it.

With the DUP holding most unionist seats, the party's decision to table a petition of concern means the move to replicate laws already introduced elsewhere in the UK is doomed to fall.

Supporters of gay marriage held protests in Belfast and Londonderry to object to the use of a petition on such an issue.

The voting mechanism was incorporated into Assembly structures during the peace process to protect minority views.

Mr Corrigan said: "With politicians continuing to block equality, it is now inevitable that same-sex couples in Northern Ireland will take a legal challenge on the basis of inferior treatment with regards to the right to marry and found a family."

He added: "States may not discriminate with regards to the right to marry and found a family, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

"That obligation is clear in international law. This means that marriage should be available to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland, just as it is now in England and Wales and will shortly be in Scotland."

An Ulster Unionist minister in the power-sharing administration, Danny Kennedy, said his opposition was consistent with the teachings of religious scripture.

"The separation of church and state becomes of extreme importance. The church should never be the slave of the state and consequently the state has no right to dictate the terms of religious marriage to the church.

"In my view it is neither sensible nor desirable to allow the state to interfere in the religious institution of marriage simply for political convenience."

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