Northern Ireland: ‘a cold house’ for LGBT couples

County Armagh native and Labour MP for St Helens (Merseyside) Conor McGinn has introduced a Private Members’ Bill at Westminster which seeks to legislate for same-sex civil marriage in Northern Ireland.

Currently, Northern Ireland is the only region in the UK and Ireland where same-sex civil marriage remains illegal, after being legalised in England and Wales in July 2013, in Scotland in February 2014 and in the Republic of Ireland by popular vote in May 2015.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Bill is a Ten Minute Rule Bill. These are a type of Private Members’ Bill which enable backbench MPs to make a case for new legislation in a speech up to 10 minutes in length. Generally targeted at generating publicity for a particular issue, due to their low priority and time constraints they are often scuppered by the Government and rarely progress further.

The previous day, a parallel Private Members’ Bill was introduced in the House of Lords by prominent LGBT campaigner and Conservative peer, Lord Hayward and proceeded to a First Reading.

If successful, McGinn’s Bill would: “Make provision for the marriage of same sex couples in Northern Ireland; to make provision for the legal recognition of the same sex marriage of armed forces personnel overseas and of other same sex marriages solemnised outside Northern Ireland; to make provision in the law of Northern Ireland for the conversion of civil partnerships to marriages and for the review of civil partnerships; to make provision for rights to pensions and social security contributions for same sex married couples; to make provision for gender change by married persons and civil partners; and for connected purposes”.

Introducing his bill in the House of Commons at the end of March, Conor McGinn MP remarked: “The Assembly being in cold storage should not mean that Northern Ireland remains a cold house for LGBT rights.”

The Assembly has voted on same-sex marriage a total of five times and most recently the Assembly voted by a total of 53 votes to 52 (while three Alliance MLAs abstained) to approve Catríona Ruane’s Private Members’ Motion on the issue. However, this was subsequently blocked by a DUP petition of concern.

In a press release, McGinn stated: “My preference is for a fully functioning Executive and Assembly to deal with this issue, but LGBT couples in Northern Ireland should not be made to wait a moment longer for their basic rights.

“That is why I am introducing this Bill at the earliest available opportunity. It will test the mood of the House of Commons and I am very confident that we will win any vote. It is then for the Government to legislate.

“If my constituents in St Helens can marry the person they love, just like people in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Dublin, then I don’t see why couples in Belfast should not be able to do the same.”

Responding to a letter from McGinn, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley confirmed that the British Government would facilitate a conscience vote on the Bill.

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