A free public conference will be held tomorrow evening in Belfast to unite supporters of equal marriage rights for gay and straight couples in Northern Ireland into a new campaigning group.

LGBT rights have been the subject of widespread discussion in Northern Ireland recently, with the ban on gay men donating blood coming under increased scrutiny.

Speaking last month on BBC Radio Ulster, Lord Maginnis said marriage for gay couples was something ‘unnatural’ that would be ‘imposed’ on society, calling it a ‘rung on the ladder’ to bestiality.

In the same month, a survey into social attitudes and discrimination in Northern Ireland found a quarter of people would object to having a gay or bisexual neighbour and four in ten would object to a close relative forming a relationship with a gay or bisexual person.

Representatives from numerous bodies including The Rainbow Project, the Northern Ireland NUS, GLYNI, the Gay and Lesbian Youth Northern Ireland and the Queen’s University Belfast LGBT Society, the only University society of its kind in that part of the UK, will discuss lobbying the government for marriage equality tomorrow at a public meeting.

Scotland, England and Wales have finished public consultations on the question of marriage equality. The Scottish government’s decision is due to be unveiled this month. However, Northern Ireland is not yet considering such a move.

The Queen’s University Belfast lesbian gay bisexual and transgender society President Peter Agnew said: “No longer can the government of Northern Ireland afford to allow the infiltration of personal religious belief into its political and social policy; it is time that the leaders of our government take up the charge and shepherd our society into a new era of modernism.

“Denying Marriage Equality sends a message to all peoples of the world that Northern Ireland has not moved forward; that it supports and venerates intolerance and prejudice and wishes to deny its own citizens the right to happiness and equality as every single person, regardless of race, orientation or creed deserves.”

John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project, welcomed the creation of the campaigning group saying: “The Rainbow Project is proud to stand with all those campaigning for marriage equality and we welcome the creation of this group.

“The right to marry the person we love is a fundamental human right and we have no need for a two-tier system of recognising loving relationships in our society. We have welcomed the consultations on opening access to marriage for same-sex couples in England, Wales and Scotland.

“We hope that the Northern Ireland Executive will follow suit and ensure that the citizens of Northern Ireland are not denied the rights guaranteed to their counterparts in Great Britain.”

The free discussion will take place tomorrow, 5 July, at 6pm in the north hall of the Queen’s University Belfast Lanyon Building.