New equalities minister Penny Mordaunt has been urged to take action to help bring same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that continues to ban same-sex marriage, as the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party has blocked progress on the issue despite public support for equality.
Following the collapse of Northern Ireland’s devolved power-sharing government, campaigners say the responsibility for bringing about equal marriage now lies with the UK Parliament.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May recently said the issue should wait until devolution is restored to Northern Ireland, but backbench MPs in Westminster have begun a push for legislation that could bring about equality sooner.
Mordaunt replaced former Home Secretary Amber Rudd in an appointment announced on Monday.
(Eleanor Riley/Getty Images)Mordaunt, who is also the Secretary of State for International Development, was asked by activists from the Love Equality campaign to intervene in the ongoing absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland.
Patrick Corrigan of the Love Equality campaign said: “We are asking the new Minister for Women and Equalities to take responsibility for changing the law so that same-sex couples in Northern Ireland can enjoy the same rights as couples in her own constituency.
“Our preference has always been for the Northern Ireland Assembly to pass marriage equality legislation, in line with the overwhelming support which exists among the public here.
“However, without functioning devolution for 16 months, we now look to Westminster to legislate.
“The Private Members’ Bills introduced in Parliament in March demonstrated cross-party and cross-parliamentary support for equal marriage in Northern Ireland.
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“We now call on the UK Government to introduce its own legislation to ensure equality can become law for Northern Ireland couples.”
Mordaunt voted in favour of the 2015 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) bill that brought equal marriage to England and Wales.
Backbench bills seeking to extend same-sex unions to Northern Ireland are currently awaiting a second reading in the House of Commons and House of Lords, after the twin bills were submitted by Conservative peer Lord Hayward and Labour MP Conor McGinn.
The bills are due to receive a second reading in Parliament on May 11.
Backbench legislation usually stands little chance of becoming law, but the government previously signalled that it would give MPs a free vote on the issue.
In an interview with PinkNews in Westminster in March, the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, gave her backing to the Westminster bills – even though, as republicans, Sinn Féin do not typically recognise the authority of the UK Parliament over Northern Ireland.
O’Neill told PinkNews: “We have no government in the North at the moment, we haven’t had for 14 months, and one of the issues that’s right at the heart of the political impasse is the fact that we weren’t able to secure marriage equality in the Assembly despite quite a number of attempts.
“I was very clear throughout the [recent power-sharing] negotiations that if I wasn’t able to secure it as a deal with the DUP, we would go an alternative route.”
The Love Equality campaign for equal marriage in Northern Ireland is led by the Rainbow Project, Amnesty International, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Cara-Friend, NUS-USI and HereNI.