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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 2 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 18
Northern Ireland parliament blocks marriage bill - Amnesty International threatens legal action
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Northern Ireland parliament blocks marriage bill - Amnesty International threatens legal action

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

For the third time in 18 months, Northern Ireland's parliament - know as Stormont - has blocked a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but it is internally self-governing, and therefore not bound by British law, which already allows Gay and Lesbian couples to marry.

The bill was introduced by Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party, which favors unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland to the south. Although Sinn Fein is usually identified with Northern Ireland's Catholic minority, it has supported marriage equality for more than a decade.

Proposing the motion, Sinn Fein member CaitrĂ­ona Ruane said her party advocated the right to social, economic, gender, and cultural equality.

'We now have marriage equality in South Africa, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Argentina, some parts of Mexico and the United States of America, Uruguay, Canada, New Zealand, England and Wales,' she said. 'We will soon have it in the South of Ireland. We will also have it here in the North of Ireland.'

Sinn Fein was joined by the Social Democratic Labor Party, but the proposal was opposed by all but two unionist members, those who wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. The final vote on April 29 was 43 in favor of equality and 51 against.

Calling the unionist members 'latter-day King Canutes, trying in vain to hold back the tide of equality,' Amnesty International warned of a 'likely legal challenge if Northern Ireland is left as the only part of the UK without marriage rights for same-sex couples.'

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty's program director in Northern Ireland, said that 'States may not discriminate with regards to the right to marry and found a family on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

'That obligation is clear in international law. This means that marriage should be available to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland, just as it is now in England and Wales and will shortly be in Scotland.'

'With politicians continuing to block equality, it is now inevitable that same-sex couples in Northern Ireland will take a legal challenge on the basis of inferior treatment with regards to the right to marry and found a family,' Corrigan added.

Stormont could be sued for unlawful discrimination under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights, or the European Union charter, both of which the United Kingdom has ratified.

Before the vote Catholic bishops wrote a letter to every assembly member urging them to reject the bill.

'We write to you today out of concern that the marriage equality motion undermines a key foundation of that common good,' the bishops said.

'The proposed marriage equality motion before the assembly effectively says to parents, children and society that the state should not, and will not, promote any normative or ideal family environment for raising children. It therefore implies that the biological bond and natural ties between a child and its mother and father have no intrinsic value for the child or for society.'

The Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland also opposed the bill.

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