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StormontThe Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected a motion calling for gay marriage after a passionate debate on the controversial issue.

The defeat of the motion, introduced jointly by the Green Party and Sinn Fein, was a foregone conclusion as the DUP had tabled a ‘petition of concern’ which effectively gives it a veto on anything in the Assembly which it is determined to block.

It is the first time the Assembly has debated same-sex marriage but even if the motion had passed it would not have changed the law, but rather just stated the opinion of the Assembly.

The motion, which split both nationalism (which was largely in favour) and unionism (which was largely against), was rejected by 45 votes to 50.

Three unionist MLAs voted in favour of the motion, while all 37 nationalist MLAs supported the motion. Just six MLAs designated as neither unionist nor nationalist voted for the motion, indicating that several Alliance MLAs abstained.

However, although the result appeared to be close, the DUP’s veto meant that even if the majority of the Assembly had voted for the motion, it’s 38 MLAs could have single-handedly blocked it getting through.

Introducing his motion, Green Party leader Steven Agnew said that it sought to create equality in society but also to enhance religious freedom and widen access to the institution of marriage.

Rejecting claims that such a move could lead to dissenting churches being prosecuted for refusing to perform such ceremonies, he said that in all of the countries where gay marriage had been legalised there were no instances of churches being forced to perform same-sex marriages against their will.

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