Equality in Northern Ireland has been held up again – so what is the problem, asks Robbie Young
For as long as I have been involved in politics and campaigning, I have always been passionate about marriage equality. This is not just because I am a gay man – of course, I endorse the right of LGBT people to enjoy marital bliss (or misery) as much as everyone else – but because this is fundamentally a question of legitimacy. Whether we like it or not, marriage is still the ultimate way to provide legal recognition to a relationship. This is recognition that, if you live in the United Kingdom, affects everything from how much tax you pay to how easy it is to inherit if your partner dies.
We must remember that Labour governments, and the labour movement, have always been at the forefront of party political support for LGBT equality. We now have equal marriage in England, Scotland and Wales, and it is vital that we do all we can in Westminster to support the fight for equal rights in Northern Ireland.
As a progressive it is difficult to think there is still a country within the United Kingdom that does not allow same-sex couples equal rights, but the Democratic Unionist party, as well as holding Theresa May’s government to ransom over Brexit, also hold the keys to the equal rights for LGBT people in Northern Ireland, and are determined to block efforts to bring equal marriage to NI. There is legislative support for the issue at Stormont, with the subject a matter of debate over the past few years and a vote in November 2015 that saw support for equal marriage pass by a single vote. However, the DUP are using a veto provision called a ‘petition of concern’ designed to avoid legislative sectarianism to hold up progress on the issue.
When Conor McGinn introduced his 10-minute rule bill, he highlighted that same-sex couples can legally marry in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Dublin and London – leaving Belfast as the only capital in the UK and Ireland where same-sex marriage is still illegal. The government has continued to sidestep the issue, with Theresa May responding that it is up for the representatives of Northern Ireland to make the final decision. This ignores the fact that the the DUP, whom her government relies on for a workable majority, are misusing a tool designed to combat sectarianism against the opinion of both Stormont and the Northern Irish public.
Conor McGinn’s bill was due to have its second reading today – but it was blocked after a Tory member of parliament raised an objection in the Commons, and now will not be heard for almost six months. It is disgraceful that May is prioritising the interests of the DUP over equal rights for all citizens of the United Kingdom and we, as progressives, must continue to highlight the shame of this continued injustice on our doorstep. As McGinn says today: ‘This is not going away, and we are not giving up.’
Robbie Young is vice president for society and citizenship at the National Union of Students. He tweets at @Robbiie__
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