UK government claims Northern Ireland can ‘make a decision themselves’ on equal marriage
A UK Justice Minister has insisted that Northern Irish politicians can make a decision on equal marriage “by themselves” – despite the DUP using peace powers to override a majority on the issue.
Same-sex weddings are now permitted in England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland – but equality continues to be blocked in Northern Ireland by the DUP.
Earlier this month, a majority of the Northern Irish Assembly voted in favour of equal marriage by 53 to 51 – but the Democratic Unionist Party used a ‘petition of concern’ to strike proposals down for a fifth time.
The party has been criticised for “abusing” petitions of concern, which were introduced to encourage power-sharing and cross-community support between Unionists and Nationalists and allows MLAs to ‘veto’ legislation they deem to harm one community.
However, despite the use of powers to override the vote, the UK government has again declined to get involved – claiming that Northern Ireland can make the decision by itself.
Speaking in the Lords last week, Tory peer Lord Lexden had asked: “Why should my gay friends in Belfast be denied the right to marry one another if they wish to do so, while my gay friends in London can exercise that right?
“The first civil partnership in the United Kingdom took place in Belfast, but a same-sex marriage is impossible there.”
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The peer questioned the existing devolution settlement, and asked the government to confirm “what steps they are taking to ensure that fundamental rights apply equally in all parts of the United Kingdom”.
However, Lord Faulks, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, said the government does not see a need to intervene on the issue.
He said: “The position is that this Government, and indeed this Parliament, were pioneers in passing the same-sex marriage Act.
“Since then, the Republic of Ireland has followed suit, the American Supreme Court has accepted the argument, and the European Court of Human Rights has also. We can be proud that we have set the way.
“We also commended it to the Northern Ireland Executive, both before and after the passing of the legislation, but ultimately this is a question of devolution.
“The Northern Ireland Executive are capable of making that decision themselves. The matter is the subject of two judicial reviews.”
When another peer suggested that the situation might “solve itself naturally”, Lord Faulks added: “I think there may be something in what the noble Lord says about allowing the matter to develop and hope the solution will come without the rather more draconian measures which have been suggested.”