Prominent gay politician Lord Hayward has withdrawn an amendment which would have extended same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland after Equalities Minister Baroness Williams told the House of Lords that it was a matter for the Northern Irish government.
During a House of Lords debate on the amendment to the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths Bill on Friday (February 1), Williams said the government “wants to see Northern Ireland legalise same-sex marriage,” but did not support the amendment.
When it came to marriage equality, she said: “The proper and best place for it to be addressed is in the Northern Ireland assembly by Northern Ireland’s elected representatives.
“The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s top priority remains to restore the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly.”
— Baroness Williams about bringing same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland
“The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s top priority remains to restore the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly at Stormont, and this should be the focus.”
Northern Ireland has not had a functioning devolved administration since January 2017, when relations between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin broke down.
Baroness Williams told the Lords: “It is important that any legislation legalising same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland should be afforded a level of consultation, debate and scrutiny, using the precedents of the UK and Scottish governments.
“Legislation should be developed having taken into account the wide range of views on this issue in Northern Ireland, as well as the various legal requirements.”
“I do desire that there should be an Assembly in Belfast which takes hold of this matter, but we cannot say it goes on forever.”
— Lord Hayward on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland
She continued: “We support the principle of Lord Hayward’s amendment. It is right for same-sex marriage to be extended to Northern Ireland by a restored executive, and we recognise that the ongoing absence of devolved government is having an impact in addressing this issue.”
“We would hope and encourage a restored executive to progress legislation on this issue as one of the first things they do,” added Williams, before calling on Lord Hayward to withdraw the amendment.
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Lord Hayward withdraws his amendment on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland
Conservative peer Lord Hayward agreed to withdraw the amendment, but warned that if a government is not formed in Northern Ireland soon, he plans to try once again to bring marriage equality to the country through legislative means.
“I do desire that there should be an Assembly in Belfast which takes hold of this matter,” he said, “but we cannot say it goes on forever.”
“And I have to give due notice that in future, I will be seeking a vehicle… that is correctly phrased, that covers the full range of legislative requirements,” Hayward added.
“And if we do that, then I will be pushing the matter to a vote, because I believe that is what this House would want.”
Lord Hayward also said that he was pleased about the progress made in changing people’s minds on the issue in recent times.
“I am surprised by the apparent development of a breaking of the logjam, and I am very heartened by that fact,” he told the Lords.
During the debate, Williams paid tribute to Lord Hayward’s work, saying: “I know that many people—and the list is clearly growing—in Northern Ireland and further afield greatly appreciate his efforts, as demonstrated by his recognition recently by PinkNews as its Politician of the Year.”
Stonewall co-founder Lord Cashman also spoke passionately in the debate, calling equal treatment for people across Britain “the root and the branch of democracy. It’s what keeps us together.”
In a fiery speech, he said: “You cannot devolve equality. You cannot devolve human rights, and I believe we are talking about a human right.”