Northern Ireland could finally be given marriage equality after MPs overwhelmingly voted for a pro-LGBT+ amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill.
In an historic decision, the House of Commons voted 383-73 in favour of a clause to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland, tabled by Labour MP Conor McGinn.
The clause will require secondary legislation, and will only come into force if power-sharing talks fail to restore devolution by October 21.
Should the Stormont executive become functional by this deadline, the amendment will become void.
MPs including the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)’s Ian Paisley had argued against the amendment before Tuesday’s (July 9) vote, claiming that it would undermine Northern Ireland’s devolved parliament.
McGinn rebutted those claims by reminding MPs that the assembly voted in favour of marriage equality in November 2015, only for the decision to be overturned by the DUP using a petition of concern veto.
“Far from usurping the assembly I am acting on a mandate from the assembly when it voted in favour of equal marriage,” he said.
He suggested that the move could serve as an “incentive” for Northern Ireland’s parties to come to an agreement after a two-and-a-half-year impasse.
Labour MP Ged Killen, one of the signatories on the amendment, gave a rousing speech in which he admitted that the question of marriage equality is one close to his heart.
“This is personal for me, being that I am married to an Irishman and our marriage is not recognised where he is from,” he said.
“We can get on a plane in Glasgow as married men and arrive n Belfast as civil partners, despite having never left the UK.
“It’s been a great source of frustration and at times bemusement that for the last two years I’ve had to content with the DUP talking about how much they don’t want to see any regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.”
Killen turned his criticism to the government, accusing it of being an “obstacle” rather than an ally, and comparing its refusal to act to the state’s adoption of Section 28.
“Being an LGBT+ ally means action,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s good enough for government ministers to stand at the dispatch box and offer warm words about equality.
“No one is in any doubt that the government is perfectly, legally entitled to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland–it is just refusing to do so.”
Northern Ireland without devolution since 2017
The Northern Ireland Executive collapsed in January 2017 after Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister.
Under Northern Ireland’s power-sharing agreement, the roles of first minister (typically held by the DUP) and deputy (Sinn Fein) can only function with each other’s full support.
With McGuiness’ resignation and Sinn Fein’s subsequent refusal to replace him, the entire system collapsed.
Multiple attempts to restore the executive have since failed, with the issue of marriage equality said to be a major sticking point.
According to Colum Eastwood, leader the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the petition of concern is the “number one issue” preventing a deal.
Speaking at the PinkNews Belfast Summer Reception in June, he said: “We can’t allow this veto to exist. It has to be fixed and it has to be fixed now.”