Belfast Telegraph

Danielle Roberts: Whether through Westminster, Stormont or the courts, we’ll keep going until victory

Members of the public watch during the Pride in London Parade (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Members of the public watch during the Pride in London Parade (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

By Danielle Roberts

As policy development officer for HERe NI, I had my eye on two of the amendments put before the House of Commons on Tuesday evening; NC1 on equal marriage and NC10 on abortion law reform.

As an organisation which supports lesbian and bisexual women, we are active in both the women's sector and the LGBT+ sector, and urged our supporters to write to their MPs in support of change on both issues.

And they did! Westminster voted overwhelmingly to uphold the rights of LGBT+ people, and women and people who can get pregnant.

HERe NI is one of the six organisations which make up the Love Equality Coalition, the group campaigning for civil marriage equality in Northern Ireland, along with sector partners The Rainbow Project and Cara-Friend, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Amnesty International and NUS-USI.  This result and these amendments have not come out of the ether; they are the result of years of campaigning, protesting and lobbying.

These amendments are the result of working with MPs, human rights groups, trade and students' unions, employers and relevant professionals.

They are not 'cherry-picked' issues, as suggested by DUP MPs during the debate.

The most important element in this struggle is the action of individuals all working towards a shared goal. 

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Legal challenges would not be possible without the two couples - Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles, and Henry and Christopher Flanagan-Kane - who are questioning the lack of marriage equality by way of judicial review. 

Organisations like The Rainbow Project, Cara-Friend, Transgender NI and HERe NI challenge stigma in workplaces, schools and the media through education and awareness raising.

We've also had so many couples share their personal stories, whether it's from a rally platform or at the Culture Night 'Big Fat Gay Wedding' staple.

Then there are our supporters, who turn up in their thousands when Love Equality calls a rally, start conversations with friends and family, and write to their MPs like Armagh-raised Conor McGinn, who brought the amendment on marriage equality, and Stella Creasy, who has been a long-time supporter of Alliance for Choice. 

The vote on Tuesday was momentous.

However, nothing is set in stone. The law will only be changed if Stormont does not return by October 21 - and they might. Until then, there will be no right for same-sex couples to marry in Northern Ireland.

This ban has far-reaching consequences. People who are married legally elsewhere will still have their marriage downgraded to a civil partnership when entering Northern Ireland. Those who travel to countries where civil partnerships are not recognised will not be considered next of kin in an emergency situation. And trans people will be forced to divorce before they can acquire a gender recognition certificate.

Beyond the legal implications, the lack of civil marriage equality, coupled with some of the comments used throughout the debate and in the aftermath, will contribute to the high levels of poor mental health in the LGBT+ community here, particularly among young LGBT+ people.

Department of Education research has shown that two-thirds of our LGBT+ young people feel that their school had a negative impact on their emotional health and wellbeing.

In the event that Stormont does return, then we will support a Bill for marriage equality being put before it.

We haven't had a devolved government for over two-and-a-half years, and the MLAs elected in the last election haven't even had a chance to take their seats.

Love Equality is confident that a proposal would attract majority support in Stormont - after all, it did last time around.

We would already have equal marriage in Northern Ireland, but for the deployment of the petition of concern. Whether through Westminster, Stormont or the courts, Love Equality will keep going until everyone can marry the person they love.

HERe NI is a community organisation and charity based in Belfast that supports lesbian and bisexual women

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