NIreland finally OKs gay marriage, but veto thwarts vote

2nd November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Northern Ireland's assembly on Monday voted in favour of same-sex marriage for the first time -- by just one vote -- but the ruling Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) sank the motion with a constitutional veto.

The power-sharing assembly had voted narrowly against the legalisation on four previous occasions, but the tables turned ever so slightly with Monday's vote, when it prevailed by 53 votes to 52.

The DUP quashed the motion using a "petition of concern", under which unionist and nationalist parties can claim that a bill has failed to command support on both sides of Northern Ireland's longstanding sectarian divide.

Under the petition, a vote can pass only if supported by 60 percent of members voting, including at least 40 percent of each of the nationalist and unionist members voting.

The bill was brought by nationalist parties Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party, and followed the signing into law of same-sex marriage legislation in the Republic of Ireland last week.

Same-sex marriages are recognised as civil partnerships in Northern Ireland, leaving it the only part of Britain and Ireland where civil marriage has not become legal.

Campaigners say that same-sex couples are being discriminated against, while some Christian groups claim that marriage cannot be redefined.

Despite the veto, campaigners hailed the symbolic victory.

"It shows that, slowly but surely, politicians are catching up with public opinion here, which has been in favour of equal marriage for same-sex couples for some years," said Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's programme director in Northern Ireland.

"However, the abuse of the petition of concern, to hold back rather than uphold the rights of a minority group, means that Stormont (parliament) has once again failed to keep pace with equality legislation elsewhere in the UK and Ireland."

An Ipsos MORI survey in July found that 68 percent of adults in Northern Ireland were in favour of same-sex marriage, rising to 82 percent among 16- to 34-year-olds.

It found that 75 percent of those from a Catholic background supported gay marriage, compared with 57 percent from a Protestant community background.

The previous four attempts to legalise same-sex marriage were rejected by slim margins, including by two members in the most recent vote in April.


© 2015 AFP

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