Ministers can no longer “sit on the sidelines” while gay marriages conducted in England, Scotland and Wales are “effectively struck off” in Northern Ireland, a Labour MP has said.
Ged Killen has written to Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley calling for the Government to amend UK legislation and extend the recognition of same-sex marriage to all of the country.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where gay marriage is not legal, despite overwhelming public support and a majority of MLAs in the assembly for the policy.
The Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP has said the powers exist at UK level to override the petition, and gay marriage could be legalised in Northern Ireland “at the stroke of a pen” by amending the Marriage (Same-sex couples) Act 2013 brought forward by David Cameron’s Government.
As Stormont remains suspended as Sinn Fein and the DUP remain at loggerheads, Killen has said Bradley has a duty to act.
He said: “The recognition of our marriages is a hard-fought and hard-won right for the LGBT community and for the Government to stand aside while the marriages of UK same sex couples are effectively struck off should they choose settle in Northern Ireland is simply not good enough.
“Whilst the ideal goal should remain the full legalisation of same sex marriage in Northern Ireland through the Stormont Assembly. The collapse of that assembly and the continued failure of the efforts to restart devolved government have stalled any efforts to push for marriage equality.
“With a year lost and no end in sight, it is simply unacceptable for a Government which claims to stand for LGBT rights to continue to sit on the side lines.
“The new Secretary of State should take a stand on this or be remembered as just another Government minister who couldn’t stomach taking on the DUP.”
Killen, himself a gay married man, has put forward an Early Day Motion in Parliament, which has cross-party support, including from two Conservative MPs.
He hopes the move would see Northern Irish LGBT couples to travel to the mainland to get married “and still be married when they get home”.
The Northern Ireland Office has said the Government’s position remains that the power is devolved to Stormont, but the Scottish MP has said he will push for a debate on the issue in the House of Commons.
Killen added: “Under the existing law same-sex marriages from the rest of the UK are recognised only as civil partnerships in Northern Ireland. In practice this means in the event of a spouse’s death, the NI registrar refers to the remaining spouse only as the ‘surviving civil partner’, at the stroke of a pen removing the status of the marriage in the public records.
“This amendment would not interfere with the devolved settlement it would simply mean UK law is applied across the UK. The DUP have called for no regulatory divergence from the rest of the UK, equality cannot be the exception to this.”
The calls comes after Labour MP Stella Creasy secured a law change from the Government securing women in Northern Ireland could access free abortions on the mainland. Abortion is prohibited in Northern Ireland and women were previously charged £900 to have the procedure in the rest of the UK.
A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Office said: “The Secretary of State voted in favour of same sex marriage in England and Wales and hopes this can be extended to Northern Ireland in the future.
“However, she is clear that the position remains that same sex marriage is devolved in Northern Ireland.
“This issue highlights the importance of re-establishing stable, inclusive, devolved institutions, precisely so important decisions relating to devolved questions such as same sex marriage are considered by locally accountable politicians.
“Securing a fully functioning Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive through the latest intensive phase of all-party talks is the Secretary of State’s immediate priority.”