Marriage equality is a Northern Ireland Assembly election issue, campaigners have said as they prepare to launch a new campaign, Love Equality, which aims to deliver equal marriage rights for same-sex couples in the region.
Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK or Ireland where equal marriage is barred by law. Now campaigners plan to change that with the launch of the Love Equality campaign, which aims to secure a change in the law over the course of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s next five-year term.
The campaign is jointly organised by Northern Ireland’s main LGBT organisations, the trade union and student union movements and Amnesty International. The organisations say the campaign will not stop until equal marriage rights are part of Northern Ireland law.
“Ever since the Yes vote in the Republic of Ireland, marriage equality has become a big political issue for many voters – straight and gay – in Northern Ireland,” says John O’Doherty, one of the leaders of Love Equality.
“Last summer 20,000 people marched through Belfast demanding marriage equality, one of the biggest political demonstrations Northern Ireland has seen in years. Those people haven’t gone away. On May 5th they will be looking for candidates who promise to deliver equality for everyone. Marriage equality is now an election issue.”
The campaign website loveequalityni.org has an ‘email your candidate’ online tool, to make it easy for supporters to lobby their MLA hopefuls in every constituency in advance of the Assembly election on May 5th.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), currently Northern Ireland’s largest party, has pledged to continue to block the introduction of marriage equality in the region. In November, they used a Petition of Concern to veto a marriage equality motion which had the backing of a majority of MLAs in the Assembly.
Speaking ahead of the launch were couples who want the law to give them the choice to get married.
Sally Bridge, 48, and Catherine Couvert, 53, live in Belfast. Sally said:
“We’ve been together for 15 years and raised two sons, two cats and a dog together! We’re very proud of our family. We want young LGBT people to grow up in a world where they don’t feel like second class citizens and we want families like ours to have equal rights.”
Shane Sweeney, 30, from Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh and Eoin Griffin, 24, from Belfast hope to get married as soon as the law in Northern Ireland allows it. Shane said:
“Eoin and I have been with each other for four years. I met him at a particularly low point in my life and I’d imagine a lot of other people would have just walked away but he didn’t. I knew he was special from the start. All couples will tell you that theirs is the best partner and pepper it with clichés but Eoin and I just work. Both of us are brutally honest, determined and head strong. They say if it’s right the honeymoon phase doesn’t end and all I can do is love him more each day.
“Skip forward to last September and I’d started thinking about getting engaged. We had both talked about it and had agreed that we’d say yes if the other asked. I knew where I was going to do it. Eoin and I love politics so the Berlin Wall was a natural choice of proposal. I got him to stand on one side of the demarcation line and I was on the other. I’d explained how the walls kept loved ones apart and how people used to put their hands to the gaps to touch. So I then got him to hold out his hand across the line and I pulled out the ring and asked him to marry me. He was crying, I was crying, the American tourists were crying and he said yes. Best day of my life so far.
“We’re having the engagement party in a few weeks with family and friends. Obviously we’ve been discussing wedding dates but we will wait until we get marriage equality. I know some of my friends are going to have civil partnerships but it’s not something Eoin or I would go for. Civil partnerships to me are second tier token gestures that make distinctions on the quality of your love. You’re good, but not quite as good. We will tolerate you but not hold you in parity of esteem. That’s not good enough.”
(Photo BBC NI)