LGBTQ+ Community and Allies Take to the Streets for Marriage Equality in Northern Ireland
June 2nd 2018 – Belfast and Derry, Northern Ireland
Love Equality is the consortium of civil society groups campaigning for marriage equality in Northern Ireland. In March 2018 we took a major step forward in our campaign by supporting Private Members’ Bills in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords – the first time we had taken our fight to London since the collapse of the devolved Stormont Assembly in January 2017. Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government for 17 months at this point. Because of this, legislative responsibility lies with Westminster.
After numerous letters to members of the British government from Love Equality –– including ones sent to the Prime Minister, the Northern Ireland Secretary and the Minister for Women and Equality –– the British government outlined their position on marriage equality. Mainly that marriage equality is a devolved matter for the NI Assembly to legislate on, however if a Private Members Bill were to come to the floor of the house in Westminster then the government would allow a free vote on the legislation. Some hope then, it would seem.
Conor McGinn MP of the Labour Party introduced his Bill, which would extend marriage equality to Northern Ireland while guaranteeing protections for churches, on March 28th. It passed after an impassioned speech from McGinn amidst no opposition. However on May 11th at its second reading the bill was blocked from progression when a Conservative MP spoke against it, pushing the bill back to October 2018 for another second reading.
It was in response to this that our consortium, Love Equality, called on the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, all across Northern Ireland, to take to the streets on Saturday, June 2nd, to demand that the British government act on this outstanding rights issue. The March for Marriage took place in Belfast with approximately 20,000 people thronging the streets of the city, while a smaller – though no less determined – group of a few hundred rallied at Guildhall Square in Derry City.
The march and rally gave a physical and visible presence (for the third time) to the overwhelming public support for marriage equality captured in opinion polls here. A Sky News poll in April of this year showed that 76% of people are in support of same-sex marriages being legal here. The current situation allows only for civil partnerships and where couples have travelled to Britain or the Republic of Ireland to get married, and their marriages are downgraded to civil partnerships the moment they re-enter Northern Ireland.
The atmosphere, while electric, in both Belfast and Derry conveyed a sense of frustration from an LGBTQ+ community that has, for decades, been put on the long finger. A frustration that is compounded by the absence of government in Belfast along with the lack of awareness in Britain and Westminster about the absence of rights enjoyed by Northern Irish LGBTQ+ people, which their peers in the rest of the UK and Ireland readily enjoy. LGBTQ+ people in Northern Ireland, along with their many allies from all sections of society here, are fed up of marriage equality being delayed and denied. We are fed up of being ignored and side-lined. Westminster is the only available avenue to us to achieve this particular right, but it is one of many still denied Northern Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community.
In the Love Equality consortium, and in the LGBTQ+ community sector, we are aware of the outstanding inequalities faced by our people in Northern Ireland. Marriage equality is but one of them. It’s a time- and resource-consuming campaign which diverts that precious time and those precious few resources away from other issues around health, education and families. We need marriage equality to be dealt with, to be provided for – and we want it now. We can’t wait for this issue, which has such massive public support, to be kicked further down the line.
The government of the UK now needs to act to end this inequality uniquely faced by LGBTQ+ people in Northern Ireland. We are not looking for special treatment or elevated status. We are simply seeking equal treatment so that we can be equal to our brothers, sisters and siblings elsewhere in the UK and Ireland.
As the people faded from the streets from yet another March for Marriage in Belfast and in Derry, one might think this community has had its day in the sunshine for another year. How wrong anyone who thought that would be! We are just getting started and we are not going away!