Four years after the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland legalised same-sex marriage, Northern Ireland has now passed a law to permit same-sex marriage from midnight yesterday despite the strenuous efforts of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who have campaigned relentlessly against the new law. This momentous vote follows five attempts in Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly, to introduce same-sex marriage. The last attempt in November 2015 was defeated by one vote. As Stormont has not met for more than 1,000 days due to the and Sinn Féin’s inability to reach a power-sharing agreement the new law will be enacted by Westminster which is obliged to bring in the new rules by 13 January 2020. Same-sex couples planning to marry in Northern Ireland must state their intention 28 days before they do so.
The new law on marriage rights is bound up in another liberalising change, that of permitting abortion in Northern Ireland where the pregnancy is not a risk to the mother, this is the principal objection that the DUP have against the new law. The DUP have made it clear that they will continue to strive to overturn the law by an attempt to recall the law and prevent it being enacted. Whilst it is unlikely that this will succeed, if they do succeed, it will also sweep away the same-sex marriage law.
Many people in Northern Ireland feel that the equitable marriage law and the decriminalisation of abortion releases the medieval grip on Northern Ireland and brings the country up-to-date. The LGBT umbrella group Love Equality NI commented “Thank you to everyone who has told their stories to help us reach this milestone”. Grainne Teggart, the Northern Ireland campaign manager for Amnesty International stated “The beginning of a new era for Northern Ireland – one in which we’re free from oppressive laws that have policed our bodies and healthcare,” However Arlene Foster who leads the DUP said “it was a very sad day” in reference to the abortion aspect of the Act.
Globally the steps towards true equality are moving forward, that doesn’t mean that there are not battles still to be had. There are 29 countries that permit same-sex marriage, 17 countries that permit civil partnerships and 17 countries that have partial recognition. Whilst there may be a way to go before that is international recognition but it’s travelling in the right direction.