Opinion: Northern Ireland and marriage equality

On Friday the people of Ireland voted on marriage equality in their referendum. The results on Saturday showed that 1,201,607 people voted Yes/Tá to 734,300 voting No/Níl making the result 62.1% to 37.9% in favour. Only one of the 43 constituencies, Roscommon – South Leitrim, voted no but only by a margin of 1,029 votes and barely nibbled into the overall trend of the votes that were being announced. The other forty-two constituencies had all by either a small (only 33 votes in Donegal South West) to a large (27,959 in Dublin South) margin voted yes. Overall 1,201,607 people voted Yes/Tá to 734,300 voting No/Níl 62.1% to 37.9%.

But the other question is where does that leave Northern Ireland, which is now the largest region of the British Isles that does not have equal marriage in any shape or form allowing people of the same-sex to marry?

Firstly if we look at the Northern Ireland Act 1998 it recognises that the people of Northern Ireland can identify as British or Irish or both. This is key now to moving forward. Then from the same piece of legislation we also note that:

Section 75 and Schedule 9 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 came into force on the 01 January 2000 and placed a statutory obligation on public authorities in carrying out their various functions relating to Northern Ireland, to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity –

  • between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation;
  • between men and women generally;
  • between persons with a disability and persons without; and
  • between persons with dependants and persons without.

In addition, without prejudice to this obligation, Public Authorities are also required to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, and racial group.

Bearing in mind that people can identify as Irish or British in order to promote equality of opportunity for those LGBT people who identify as either or both they must also have the same promotion of equality for their marriages as anyone else. We cannot carry on not recognising all GB or RoI marriages and downgrading them as civil partnerships, that is not promoting equality of opportunity on marital status or sexual orientation.

On Saturday night post Eurovision I was out in Belfast’s gay area and LGBT people of whatever other identity were celebrating the result from the Republic of Ireland. If unionism does not live up to their statutory obligations on this now in the Assembly there could well be a legal case to take this higher to the UK Supreme Court or Europe.

* Stephen Glenn is currently chair of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats and a three-time Westminster candidate for the Liberal Democrats. He blogs at stephensliberaljournal.blogspot.com

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5 Comments

  • Hopefully there will be movement towards making equal marriage UK wide in the near future.

    What I love about the Irish change is that it was a decisive popular vote. Attitudes can change and it should give heart to those seeking to achieve the same north of the border..

  • Eddie Sammon 25th May '15 - 3:25pm

    I hope Northern Ireland adopts same sex marriage soon, but I wouldn’t be comfortable in using the courts to force them to do so. There would probably be some kind of anti union backlash if we did.

    Congratulations to the Republic of Ireland too.

    Thanks for to us on this topic.

  • Richard Underhill 25th Apr '16 - 1:16pm

    BBC Daily Politics on 25/4/2016 had a brief summary of Northern Ireland’s political parties for the May elections to the devolved Assembly.
    They omitted the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, which, bravely and consistently, is an anti-sectarian party, whose leaders have come from both sides of the divide.
    http://allianceparty.org/

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