Game on. The path for marriage equality in Northern Ireland has become clearer and parliament must be the vanguard for equality.
The six counties are the only place in the United Kingdom and Ireland were marriage equality is not a reality. The UK, following a vote in parliament in 2013; the Republic of Ireland, following a referendum of the public that won with 62 per cent of the vote in 2015. But the Democratic Unionist party has continually blocked the progress of a bill to bring Northern Ireland into line with its neighbours. In the Stormont assembly, the DUP uses something called a petition of concern to halt the measure despite its majority in the chamber. But with power sharing on hold, an opportunity has arisen.
Yesterday, Conor McGinn, former chair of the Labour Party Irish Society and member of parliament for St Helens North extracted an important commitment from the government: if marriage equality for Northern Ireland came before the House of Commons the Tories would allow a free vote. Secretary of state Karen Bradley wrote, ‘If this issue were to be raised in Westminster, the Government’s policy is to allow a free vote on matters of conscience such as equal marriage.’
We now need a route map, a timetable and a deadline
The government, serving all the citizens of the UK, should not just allow for that wrong to be corrected, but actively bring about justice. Because, as Labour peer Waheed Alli rightly argues, the LGBT community of Northern Ireland ‘have already been waiting for equality for far too long’. I agree with him that Bradley should ‘set a clear deadline for legislation in either the restored assembly or UK parliament‘. We now need a route map, a timetable and a deadline.
It is everyone’s preference that power sharing be restored. It is also preferable that this legislation is granted by the Stormont assembly – because this is supported by a majority of Northern Ireland lawmakers and, more importantly, voters. But if the politicians cannot get their act together, the LGBT people of Northern Ireland should not have to wait any longer. Everyone in Labour should support Conor McGinn’s bill if Stormont is not back up soon.
Together we can end this injustice.
Richard Angell is LGBT Officer of the Labour Party Irish Society