A Labour MP has said that he is “very confident” that his colleagues across the floor will extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland if they are given the opportunity to do so this week.
On Monday (July 8) MPs will debate a bill aimed at buying more time for Northern Ireland to restore its devolved executive.
While the government’s bill is fairly straight-forward—proposing a delay to Assembly elections so that power-sharing talks can continue—there are several proposed amendments which could have monumental impacts.
One, tabled by Labour MP Conor McGinn, would force Westminster to extend marriage equality to Northern Ireland should talks fail to restore the executive by October 21.
Speaking to RTE, McGinn said that “if it is called and selected… then I am very confident that that the MPs across all parties will emphatically endorse equal rights for people in Northern Ireland, that they can enjoy with the rest of Ireland and the rest of the UK.”
Northern Ireland equal marriage amendment would get free vote
Theresa May’s government has repeatedly said that marriage equality in Northern Ireland is a matter for the devolved legislature and has so far refused to intervene.
However Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley said in February that if a vote on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland were to be brought forward, it would be a free vote in line with the government’s policy on matters of conscience.
I am very confident that that the MPs across all parties will endorse equal rights.
Speaker John Bercow will select which amendments will be debated ahead of the Northern Ireland Bill’s second reading on Tuesday (July 9).
Other amendments on the table include one aimed at introducing safe and legal access to abortion, put forward by Labour MP Stella Creasy, and one which could seek to prevent a no-deal Brexit, to be tabled by Conservative MP Dominic Grieve.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without marriage equality.
Stormont has voted on same-sex marriage legislation five times since 2012.
Marriage equality was voted through by a slim majority on the most recent attempt in November 2015, only to be blocked by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) using a petition of concern, a mechanism designed to ensure all legislation has the support of both republicans and nationalists.
Leaders from Northern Ireland’s four other major parties were united in their support for marriage equality at the PinkNews Belfast Summer Reception on June 20, with Colum Eastwood of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) calling the petition of concern the “number one issue” in the talks process.
“We can’t allow this veto to exist,” he said. “It has to be fixed and it has to be fixed now.”