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MPs to vote on Northern Ireland marriage equality today

Reiss Smith July 9, 2019

Thousands take part in a protest, march, and rally in Belfast, calling for the legalisation of same-sex marriage. (John Rooney/Getty)

The UK parliament will vote on an amendment to the Northern Ireland bill at Tuesday evening (July 9) which could finally introduce equal marriage.

MPs are debating an amendment to the Northern Ireland bill which, if passed, would commit the government to extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland if the devolved executive is not restored by October 21. A vote is expected at about 5pm.

The amendment was tabled by Labour MP Conor McGinn and signed by his colleagues Yvette Cooper, Owen Smith and Stella Creasy – whose own amendment on abortion rights has also been selected for debate.

It also has the backing of  openly gay Labour backbenchers Ged Killen, Wes Streeting and Stephen Doughty, as well as Conservative MPs Justine Greening and Nick Herbert, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.

Amendment could be overturned by Stormont

Speaking in the Commons, McGinn said that he hopes to deliver an “interim measure” on gay marriage while Stormont remains dormant. He said that any decision  could be overturned by the executive upon its reinstatement.

“We will make the law here, and when the executive is back up and running it will have the power to change it,” he explained.

Ian Paisley, a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP, suggested that the amendment could “de-incentivise” power-sharing talks, and accused McGinn of “usurping” the role of the assembly.

In response, the Labour MP insisted that a vote for equal marriage should act as an “incentive for parties to come to an agreement.”

“Far from usurping the assembly I am acting on a mandate from the assembly when it voted in favour of equal marriage,” he added.

DUP veto ‘number one issue’ in Northern Ireland talks

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning government since 2017, with the issue of marriage equality thought to be a major stumbling block in attempts to reinstate devolution.

The assembly has voted on marriage equality five times since 2012. A small majority voted in favour on the most recent attempt in November 2015, however the DUP blocked the bill using a petition of concern, a mechanism designed to ensure all legislation has the support of both republicans and nationalists.

I am acting on a mandate from the assembly when it voted in favour of equal marriage.

Colum Eastwood, leader the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), admitted in June that the petition of concern is the “number one issue” in the talks process.

Speaking at the PinkNews Belfast Summer Reception, he said: “We can’t allow this veto to exist. It has to be fixed and it has to be fixed now.”

In May, Sinn Fein politician Conor Murphy suggested that the UK Government was at one point prepared to intervene to break the impasse.

Ireland and the rest of the UK both recognise equal marriage. (Getty)

“The issue of equal marriage was going to be presented in the Assembly,” he told BBC Radio Ulter’s Stephen Nolan on Tuesday (May 7).

“If it failed, we had an assurance it would be passed by Westminster.”

Westminster has repeatedly denied that it would involve itself in the matter.

“It has been the UK Government’s consistent position that the best way forward is for locally accountable politicians in Northern Ireland to make decisions that affect the lives of the people they serve,” a UK Government spokesperson told PinkNews.

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