It’s time for equal marriage in Northern Ireland. If Theresa May won’t act, I will.
Conor McGinn, a Northern Ireland-born Labour MP, writes for PinkNews as he tables a bill in the UK Parliament to bring marriage equality to the region.
Since equal marriage was approved in England and Wales in 2012, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Scotland and Ireland have followed suit in changing the law to allow same-sex couples to wed.
However, it is a different story in Northern Ireland. Thousands of people in the place where I was born and grew up are still denied a basic right – the right to get married to the person they love.
This is despite the Northern Ireland Assembly voting in favour of an equal marriage bill and every poll showing that equal marriage is supported by a majority of the public in Northern Ireland.
Alongside that, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, Sinn Féin, the Green Party and other smaller parties all support it, as do prominent members of the Ulster Unionist Party. But it was blocked at Stormont by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and now the entire Assembly is in cold storage following the collapse of talks – partly because no agreement was found on this very issue – between the DUP and Sinn Féin.
Let me be clear. I would like to see a fully functioning Northern Ireland Assembly up and running and making the decision to allow equal marriage.
But in its absence, which has been for over a year now, I believe LGBT couples in Northern Ireland should not have to wait any longer for this injustice to end.
The UK Government should introduce legislation to right this fundamental wrong. Sadly it has not given that commitment, and so long as it relies on the support of the DUP to remain in office, it probably won’t act of its own volition.
That is why I am introducing new legislation at Westminster to allow same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, has confirmed to me that the House of Commons has the power to do this, and that the Conservative Party will allow its members a free vote on the matter.
Labour’s Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith is fully supportive of my efforts, and I am confident the proposed new law will command the support of MPs from across Parliament.
I am working alongside the Love Equality campaign – a coalition of organisations in Northern Ireland – and MPs, peers and the wider LGBT community to introduce my Equal Marriage Bill for Northern Ireland Bill on March 28.
If the Commons is in favour, as I expect it will be, the Government will have a moral and political duty to act and bring in legislation to end this discrimination once and for all.
While I am confident we can secure a convincing majority in support of my bill in the Commons, the rights of LGBT people in Northern Ireland should not be delayed by a parliamentary process that can knock backbench bills like mine off course.
It is vital the Government also gets behind this change and makes sure that we get legislation to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK and Ireland on equal marriage.
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Every day that same-sex couples have to wait for this change is a day too long. They cannot and should not have to wait for the ongoing political impasse at Stormont to be resolved.
Sometimes, when it comes to Northern Ireland, we can overcomplicate things. But this is quite straightforward. It’s not about people being unionists or nationalists. It’s not even about whether people are gay or straight, or married or not. It is not really anything to do with politics either. It’s simply about people being equal.
Because, if same-sex couples in my St Helens constituency and couples in Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Dublin can get married, why should same-sex couples in Northern Ireland be denied the same right?
Ulster’s LGBT community has had enough of No. So let’s say Yes: yes to equality, yes to dignity and yes to love.
Conor McGinn is MP for St Helens North