Saturday 24 August 2019

Same-sex marriage and wider access to abortion in North backed by MPs

Change: Sara Canning, partner of murdered journalist Lyra McKee, was among the campaigners for equality. Picture: PA
Change: Sara Canning, partner of murdered journalist Lyra McKee, was among the campaigners for equality. Picture: PA

Michael McHugh and William James

Same-sex marriage and extended access to abortion in Northern Ireland are a step closer after MPs in Westminster voted to legalise both if a new Stormont Executive is not formed by October.

The House of Commons decided by a majority of 310, 383 to 73, to include a provision allowing for same-sex marriage in legislation.

MPs also voted in favour of extending access to abortion by a majority of 233, 332 to 99.

The gay marriage ban is a key dispute between the DUP and Sinn Féin, which have struggled for years to reconcile their differences.

The Stormont power-sharing administration has not sat since 2017, so Labour MP Conor McGinn led the cross-party bid with an amendment to address the issue of same-sex marriage at Westminster yesterday. The legislation has several stages to pass before it creates a legal duty on the British government to amend Northern Ireland's laws.

That duty only comes into effect if the Northern Irish Assembly has not been re-established by October 21.

Director of The Rainbow Project and member of the Love Equality civic campaign John O'Doherty said: "Parliament has always had the power to legislate for marriage equality in Northern Ireland and we are glad the House of Commons has seen sense and voted to give people in Northern Ireland the same freedoms enjoyed by everyone else in these islands.

"Our future got a little brighter today."

The DUP has been vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage and the liberalisation of abortion. All of its MPs voted against both amendments.

It has blocked previous attempts to legislate for same-sex marriage, despite opinion polls showing most people in the North are in favour of it. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage is not allowed and where abortions can only take place if the life of the mother is at risk.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland expressed its "disappointment and regret" on the votes, saying they pave the way for "liberalisation of abortion law and the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland".

It called on the UK government to clarify how it will respond to the amendments and asked what consultation will be undertaken "within this short timeframe".

Last year, Britain's Supreme Court found Northern Ireland's strict abortion law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, but said it did not have the powers to make a formal declaration that the law should be changed.

Irish Independent

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