Northern Irish teens: Give us equal marriage for Valentine’s Day
Teens growing up in Northern Ireland are calling for action to bring equal marriage to the region.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that still bans same-sex couples from marrying, as the Democratic Unionist Party has blocked democratic votes on the issue.
The region is currently without a government due to the collapse of power-sharing between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein have demanded a settlement on equal marriage as part of any power-sharing deal, while hardliners in the DUP have threatened to revolt if the party makes any concession on the issue.
Teens in the region this week launched a fresh push for equality – demanding the same rights as people in the rest of UK and Republic of Ireland.
The group of teenage friends, members of the CaraFriend youth group in Belfast, have created the online petition with the help of Amnesty International, part of the Love Equality campaign for civil marriage equality in Northern Ireland.
The teenagers plan to deliver the petition to Northern Ireland party leaders at Stormont next Wednesday – Valentine’s Day.
18-year-old Cameron Brown, from Belfast, said: “When I’m a bit older, I want to be able to marry the love of my life. Why would the government want to stop me doing that?
“Marriage equality isn’t simply an aspiration. It is a right and it’s our demand of our politicians.”
Amelia Clarke, 18, also from Belfast, said: “One day, I want to be able to get married, with my family and friends around me. Is that too much to ask?
“We are asking people to sign our petition for equality. It’s time that Northern Ireland respected all its citizens.”
Shay Love, 18, also from Belfast, said: “I refuse to be a second-class citizen in my own country. We don’t want much – we just want to be treated equally.
“We hope people will get behind our campaign as young people trying to make this a better place for everybody to grow up, to live and to love.”
Amid negotiations to restore power-sharing, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley last week met with Love Equality campaigners.
During the meeting at Belfast’s at Stormont House, campaigners told the Secretary of State that they want her to introduce legislation at Westminster if there is no breakthrough in the inter-party talks.
Patrick Corrigan of the Love Equality campaign said: “We made clear to the Secretary of State that we expect her Government to introduce marriage equality legislation at Westminster to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK and Ireland, if there is no restoration of devolution.
“We would prefer our own Assembly to deliver marriage equality, but if it cannot or will not, then it is unacceptable that same-sex couples here should be made to wait a moment longer for the right to be treated equally under the law.
“Frankly, the UK Government should be embarrassed to preach a message of human rights and equality for LGBTI people around the world, while it oversees discrimination in its own backyard here in Northern Ireland.
“Following our meetings with political parties over the last week, it is clear that up-front reform of the petition of concern will be necessary for the devolved institutions to be able to deliver marriage equality. The alternative is four more years of Stormont failure.”
But in her statement following the meeting, Ms Bradley said it was “essential” that the issues are dealt with locally.
She said: “It’s clear issues such as equal marriage and minority languages are important to many people across the community in Northern Ireland, so I welcomed the chance to listen and be informed by today’s meetings.
“The fact remains, the issues these groups lobby on are devolved. Therefore it is essential all parties use the opportunity provided by the current phase of talks to restore devolved government and allow any important decisions on these issues to be taken by locally-elected politicians. This is what the people of Northern Ireland voted for and this is what we are all working so hard to deliver”
Elsewhere last week representatives from the Democratic Unionist Party met with equal marriage campaigners for the first time.
Hopes were raised that the party could change its stance, after agreeing to meet with equal marriage campaigners in the region.
But the campaigners left the meeting with the DUP’s Edwin Poots disappointed – as he failed to shift even slightly on the issue.
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Cara McCann of the Love Equality campaign, said: “We welcome the meeting with the DUP today, but are extremely disappointed with the outcome. Sadly, the DUP remains opposed to civil marriage equality for Northern Ireland in the face of overwhelming support among the public and within the Assembly.
“No commitment was given by the party to end their use of the petition of concern, and if this remains their position, it is difficult to see how any new Executive could be considered a government for all the people of Northern Ireland.
“We will continue to call on the DUP to listen to the clear majority of people, including very many of their own voters, who support equal marriage. And we call on other parties to ensure that any new Stormont government can deliver marriage equality. That means either a new Executive will introduce marriage equality legislation, or that Executive parties deliver meaningful reform of the petition of concern to remove it as a veto on equality.
“Failing that, we will shift our focus to Westminster and ask the UK government to ensure equality for all citizens, rather than uphold discriminatory laws in Northern Ireland.”
In the previous assembly, the DUP used a procedure known as a ‘petition of concern’ to override democratic votes in favour of equal marriage.