A Bill to provide for marriage equality for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland will be introduced in the House of Lords on Tuesday.
It could be seen as an attempt to sneak the legislation past the Democratic Unionist Party which has repeatedly blocked marriage for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland, in spite of broad public support.
Ipsos MORI carried out a survey on attitudes towards same sex marriage in Northern Ireland, during the lead up and in the aftermath of the same sex marriage Referendum in the Republic of Ireland back in 2015.
68% of people said homosexual couples should be allowed to marry with only a quarter saying they disagree. The result was skewed by a far less sympathetic older generation, with only 36% of those aged over 65 supporting marriage equality. Meanwhile, 87% of 16-24-year-olds said they were pr-‘gay marriage’.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill will be introduced by Conservative peer Lord Hayward on Tuesday afternoon. The following day, Labour MP Conor McGinn will introduce his identical Bill in the House of Commons.
Campaigners have described the parallel Bills as a “powerful demonstration of cross-party, cross-parliamentary support” for the push to bring marriage equality to Northern Ireland, the last part of the UK or Ireland where same-sex marriage is still unlawful.
Robert Hayward said: “It gives me great honour to launch the Westminster campaign for equal marriage rights in Northern Ireland in the House of Lords.
“The strength of public opinion for equal marriage rights in Northern Ireland will be shown by the petition they are due to present to Downing Street later this week.
“I am particularly delighted to launch the Bill in the presence of Ulsterman John Henry, whose powerful story moved me and so many others in recent weeks.”
John Henry, brother of Ulster and Ireland rugby star Chris Henry, recently told of how not being able to tell his brother personally that he was gay was “one of the biggest regrets of my life”, after he had moved away from what he perceived to be an intolerant Northern Ireland when he was 18.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty Northern Ireland programme director and a member of the Love Equality campaign, said: “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 the last 15 months, we now look to Westminster to legislate.”
Lord Hayward will introduce his Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon.
Conor McGinn MP will then introduce his Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill in the House of Commons the following day.
meanwhile, campaigners will hand in a 30,000-strong petition to 10 Downing Street on Wednesday at 2.30pm, calling for the Government’s support in passing marriage equality legislation for Northern Ireland to bring the region into line with the rest of the UK.
The equality campaign has shifted its focus to Westminster following the collapse of political talks at Stormont designed to restore devolution in Northern Ireland. The Love Equality campaign for equal civil marriage in Northern Ireland is led by the Rainbow Project, Amnesty International, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Cara-Friend, NUS-USI and HereNI. The charity Stonewall offers no support to the region in spite of it being the part of the UK with the greatest inequality for LGBT+ people.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland which still bans marriage for same-sex couples, despite majority support among the public and in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
In November 2015, a majority of MLAs in the Assembly voted to support equal marriage, but the measure was blocked by the DUP using a Petition of Concern, a voting mechanism designed to protect the rights of minorities in Northern Ireland.
An Ipsos MORI poll in 2016 showed 70% support for marriage equality amongst the Northern Ireland public. It is thought that at least 55 out of 90 MLAs in the Assembly support marriage equality legislation.