The Northern Ireland Alliance Party Assembly Member, Stephen Farry, has said the country’s Equality Commission should have spoken out in support of equal marriage “much earlier”.

On Wednesday, the commission criticised repeated attempts to block progress on marriage equality in the NI Assembly and declared its support for the measure at the same time.

“Leadership needs to be shown – people from the gay and lesbian community are feeling let down by this,” the head of the NI Equality Commission said.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has twice used a petition of concern to block votes on equal marriage – much to the annoyance of Sinn Féin, the Greens and the Alliance Party, who all support the reform for Northern Ireland.

Alliance Assembly Member Stephen Farry said: “This intervention from the Equality Commission is welcome. However, this has been a live issue in Northern Ireland for several years, and frankly the Equality Commission should have spoken out much earlier.

“Nevertheless, this intervention reinforces that same-sex marriage is a fundamental issue of equality. Extending the option of marriage to same-sex couples does not undermine the institution or detract from anybody else’s option to get married. In a democratic society, everyone should have equal access to state-provided civil marriage.

“I acknowledge that it is an issue of huge sensitivity for many religious denominations and faith groups, which is why our party policy includes robust protections for faith groups and religious celebrants so that they will not be forced to conduct same sex marriage ceremonies or have them conducted on their premises.”

He added: “There is an urgent need for constructive dialogue between elected representatives and all aspects of civic society in order to deal with the issue. The effective DUP veto on this issue through the petition of concern is an abuse of that mechanism, and is essentially being used to frustrate certain people from being able to fulfil their rights. Northern Ireland will quickly be well out of step with Great Britain, and much of the rest of the western world.”

Sinn Féin Chief Whip Caitriona Ruane said on Thursday: “The commission has recognised that many parties need to show leadership in bringing about the changes needed for real equality for the GLBT community.  I also believe that this extends to individual members who while purporting to support equality disappear at the first sign of a debate on marriage equality.”