UK government faces fresh demand for equal marriage deal in Northern Ireland as talks collapse
The UK government is facing fresh calls to secure equality for gay couples in Northern Ireland after power-sharing talks collapsed.
Talks for the restoration of a devolved power-sharing government in the region collapsed yesterday after the Democratic Unionist Party stormed out of talks with republican party Sinn Fein.
One of the issues of contention between the two parties is same-sex marriage, as the DUP has previously used peace process powers to block equal marriage bills.
Following the collapse of power-sharing talks this week, the DUP has called for the UK government to begin direct rule over the region. In response, LGBT advocates have encouraged the UK government to push ahead to secure some equal marriage rights.
Labour’s Ged Killen called on the Conservatives to extend the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, which governs equal marriage in England and Wales, to make sure that the unions are also recognised in Northern Ireland.
In a letter to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley, Mr Killen wrote: “I would like to welcome you to your new position and wish you well as you begin the important task of trying to resolve the political deadlock in Stormont and see the return of a functioning Northern Ireland Executive.
“Shortly before your appointment I raised the issue of the recognition of same sex marriages in Northern Ireland with your predecessor at Northern Ireland questions.
“In my question, I asked the Government whether it would consider amending the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 to allow same sex marriages conducted in the rest of the UK to be recognised in Northern Ireland.
“Same sex marriages are a hard fought and hard won right for the LGBT community in the UK. However, under the current legislation this right is not recognised in Northern Ireland.
“Should a same sex couple married in the rest of the UK settle in Northern Ireland their right to say that they are a married couple will not be respected in the public records as any partnership between a same sex couple will only be recorded as a civil partnership by the Northern Ireland registrar.”
He added: “The Government has set out its view on several occasions that it will not make powers available for same sex marriages to be performed in Northern Ireland as it believes this is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“However, the Government could act to ensure that UK citizens do not have their rights to a recognised marriage removed simply because they choose to settle in another part of the country. Various court cases have been undertaken to provide for the recognition of UK same sex marriages in Northern Ireland, however these legal challenges have been dismissed in judgements which have cited the need for legislation.
“The Government has previously stated that it will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBT people in Northern Ireland despite its confidence and supply agreement with the DUP. I am hoping that as the incoming Secretary of State you will demonstrate this and ensure that there is no regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland the UK when it comes to recognising marriage.”
The issue is sensitive for the UK government due to its reliance on the DUP for votes to prop it up in Parliament.
Meanwhile, according to the Belfast Telegraph, the DUP had agreed to a potential concession on equal marriage before walking away from talks.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald claimed that the party had agreed not to stop employing the petition of concern, a peace process power that had been used to override votes in favour of equal marriage,
However, a DUP spokesperson told the Belfast News Letter: “The DUP has a mandated policy to defend the current definition of marriage. We stand by that commitment.”
A source inside the party also told the outlet that the party would continue to employ a ‘petition of concern’ on equal marriage.
Elsewhere today a group of LGBT teenagers delivered a petition calling for marriage equality in Northern Ireland to politicians in the region.
Among those who received the petition in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings were Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin, Colum Eastwood and Nichola Mallon of the SDLP, Doug Beattie and John Stewart of the Ulster Unionist Party, Naomi Long of Alliance, Steven Agnew of the Green Party and Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit.
DUP leader Arlene Foster did not reply to their letter of invitation.
The petition was presented in the form of a huge Valentine’s Day card and the teenagers brought lots heart-shaped balloons to demonstrate their support for the Love Equality campaign.
The LGBT teens only set up the petition on Thursday and say they have been overwhelmed with the response. So far, more than 14,000 people have signed the petition.
Patrick Corrigan of the Love Equality campaign said: “It is hugely encouraging to see the breadth of party political support for marriage equality legislation at the Assembly.
“But it is all the more exasperating to know that, despite a large majority of MLAs in support of a law change, they cannot make progress because of the DUP’s vow to use the Petition of Concern to frustrate the will of the Assembly.
“It is now clearer than ever that the Petition of Concern must be reformed – up front as part of any Stormont Talks deal – if the devolved institutions are to have any credibility in being able to provide a government for everyone.
“To return to government without actual reform of the Petition of Concern, as opposed to simply a promise to review the mechanism, would be a huge let-down to the young people who presented the petition today and the many others who don’t want another four years of Stormont failure. If Stormont is not up to the job, then we are asking Westminster to intervene.”