DUP blocks Stormont vote for gay marriage
Campaigners for same-sex civil marriage in Northern Ireland have hailed a first Stormont vote in favour of a law change as a "significant milestone", even though the proposal fell due to a Democratic Unionist blocking mechanism.
In a tight vote, 53 MLAs voted for a law change and 52 voted against, with one abstention.
However, the "petition of concern" tabled by the DUP at the outset of the debate in Belfast meant the proposal could only have succeeded if a sufficient number of both unionist and nationalist MLAs backed it.
Given that the DUP is the biggest unionist party, that was not going to happen. And even if the motion had been carried, the Stormont Executive could only ever legislate with DUP support.
Nevertheless, supporters of gay marriage said the first overall majority vote, in what was the fifth debate on the issue, was a "symbolic victory".
John O'Doherty, director of LGBT lobby group the Rainbow Project, said it was a momentous day.
"We now know a majority of Assembly members support equal marriage, a majority of the public support equal marriage," he said.
"What we now need is public leadership from this house to ensure equal marriage becomes a reality and we can move this debate and issue forward."
Ahead of the vote, Jayne Robinson and Laura McKee issued wedding invitations to MLAs who voted yes.
"It's fantastic - it just sends out a really good message that the tide is actually turning," Ms McKee said after the debate.
"It sends out a message that this debate isn't going to go away and the people really do need to move with the times."
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland where there is no same-sex civil marriage.
The issue divides public opinion in the North. While advocates claim same-sex couples are being denied the rights afforded to heterosexuals, a number of Christian organisations insist the institution of marriage should not be redefined.
Ahead of the vote, Catholic bishops in the North issued an open letter warning against a yes vote.
"Those who vote in favour of this motion have no way of knowing what the full consequences of such a vote will be," they wrote.
"The truth about marriage derives from its intrinsic nature as a relationship based on the complementarity of a man and woman and the unique capacity of this relationship alone to generate new life."
The petition of concern mechanism was devised during the peace process to ensure the rights of both unionists and nationalists were protected.