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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 7 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 06
Northern Ireland LGBT groups to sue for marriage
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Northern Ireland LGBT groups to sue for marriage

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

LGBT rights groups in Northern Ireland are threatening to sue the government for marriage rights. After Scotland passed its marriage equality bill on February 4, Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom without marriage equality.

The British parliament legalized Gay and Lesbian marriages in England and Wales last July and the first ceremonies are scheduled for March 29.

John O'Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project in Belfast and chair of Equal Marriage Northern Ireland, told the British newspaper Gay Star News that he applauded Scotland's parliament for voting in favor of equality.

'But it's very frustrating when you consider Northern Ireland had the first ever civil partnership,' he said.

The independent Republic of Ireland is likely to legalize same-sex marriage in the next three years, in spite of being an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country.

'We will be the only country of these islands to still ban equal marriage,' O'Doherty lamented.

LGBT rights activists believe their best opportunity to win marriage rights is through a lawsuit, O'Doherty explained.

'The reality in Northern Ireland is that we have to rely on the courts on LGBT issues,' he said.

'Examples of this in recent times are rights of same-sex couples and unmarried couples to apply to adopt and the MSM blood ban both of which were ruled as discriminatory by the courts in Northern Ireland.'

In December last year, the British Supreme Court ruled that Northern Ireland's ban on same-sex couples adopting children was discriminatory.

O'Doherty added that it would be almost impossible to win marriage rights through legislative means.

If activists tried to work through Stormont, Northern Ireland's parliament, they would have to use a process known as a 'Petition of Concern' because the fragile coalition that governs Northern Ireland is not able to put forward controversial legislation.

That means that at least 30 members of parliament would have to sign on to a petition expressing concern for equal marriage rights. Then, the measure would have to win 60% support in parliament as a whole, including 40% of both nationalists and unionists, the two factions who make up the coalition government.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a Presbyterian fundamentalist party, is vehemently opposed to equal marriage and has never supported any LGBT equality measure. They have opposed civil partnerships and even hate crime legislation.

As long as the DUP has its current 38 members of parliament, they are able to bring forward a petition of concern on any issue they choose, and to block one on any issue. DUP currently makes up 35% of the assembly on their own and 67% of the unionist faction.

Without the support of the DUP, therefore, an equal marriage bill will never pass Northern Ireland's parliament.

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