Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness has said the country should hold a referendum on same-sex marriage.
It remains the only country in the United Kingdom that does not allow same-sex marriage. The Assembly in Stormont held a vote on the issue on Monday, but it failed to secure enough votes.
The DUP had issued a “petition of concern” which would automatically block same-sex marriage even if MLAs had voted in favour.
Polls have shown a modest majority of people in Northern Ireland support same-sex marriage.
Speaking at the election debate on UTV last night, the Sinn Féin politician said Northern Ireland should hold a referendum on the issue as the assembly did not seem to be representing public opinion.
Mr McGuinness said: “What would be very interesting for me, would be to gauge whether or not on the issue of equality, in regard to the rights of people in LGBT community, the assembly actually is representative of people here in the north and I think it would be very interesting if we had a referendum.
“In fact I would advocate that we should have a referendum.
“This is a matter of whether or not we want to live in a modern progressive society that respects minorities, and as far as I’m concerned the LGBT community for far too long have been discriminated against and I believe that they are entitled to be treated as equals and treated with respect.”
The DUP’s Nigel Dodds dismissed Mr McGuinness’ commitment to equality, citing an incident when Sinn Féin’s president Gerry Adams referred to unionist politicians as “bastards”.
Both Naomi Long of the Alliance party and SDLP’s Mark Durkan said they personally supported same-sex marriage, but allowed their parties MLAs to vote according to their conscience. They also both said they considered a referendum a valid option.
Ms Long said: “I do think increasingly the assembly is making itself irrelevant in this point, and the only way to deliver this may be to consider something as extreme as a referendum.”