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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 1, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 44
Northern Ireland gets marriage equality by default Abortion also decriminalized
Section One
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Northern Ireland gets marriage equality by default Abortion also decriminalized

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Northern Ireland got marriage equality by default on October 21, and marriages are set to begin in February 2020.

Northern Ireland is an internally self-governing part of the United Kingdom but has been unable to form a government since 2017, with the two leading political parties at odds over key policies.

The UK's parliament stepped into the political void and passed legislation - including marriage equality laws - that were to take effect on October 21, 2019, if no agreement on a government was concluded.

As a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ending the so-called 'Troubles' - armed conflict between Northern Ireland's Catholic and Protestant communities - the Northern Ireland government must be based on power-sharing between the (mainly) Catholic and Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party and the (mainly) Protestant and pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Although Sinn Fein is based mainly in the Catholic community, it favors marriage equality and reproductive choice. In 2015, Sinn Fein, along with smaller progressive parties, won a majority vote for marriage equality in Northern Ireland's parliament.

The DUP blocked the law from taking effect, using a parliamentary maneuver. Failure to resolve the standoff was a major factor in the government's collapse in 2017.

In the subsequent parliamentary election in Northern Ireland, the DUP found itself in the minority for the first time. The parties were unable to agree on a speaker for the newly elected parliament, however, so the body never formally elected a new government.

The UK parliament stepped into the breach this year, with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc.) Act, establishing deadlines for the formation of a new Northern Ireland government and consequences if the parties failed to reach agreement.

They did fail, and one of the significant consequences was that marriage equality became the law of the land. Northern Ireland is now the final piece of the UK to legalize same-sex marriages.

The new legislation requires the UK government to issue regulations providing for same-sex marriage by January 13, 2020.

Because couples have to indicate their intention to marry 28 days before doing so, the first Lesbian and Gay weddings are expected to be held in the week of Valentine's Day.

In addition, the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 - which made abortion a criminal offence - has been repealed for Northern Ireland by the UK parliament. Abortion was legalized in Britain in 1967.

Under the provisions of the new law, Northern Ireland must begin to provide abortion services by March 31, 2020.

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