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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 3, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 18
Northern Irish lawmakers reject marriage equality
Section One
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Northern Irish lawmakers reject marriage equality

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A motion to legalize same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland was voted down in that region's legislative body on April 29 by a margin of 53 to 42.

The proposal offered by the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein called on the power-sharing government executive to authorize same-sex marriages. It was voted down in the Northern Ireland Assembly by pro-British Unionist members.

Sinn Fein, which is included in the power-sharing government under the Good Friday Agreement negotiated in 1998, is a secular party but draws most of its support from Northern Ireland's Catholic community. Unionists are almost exclusively Protestant, most from conservative Presbyterian churches.

The largest Unionist party, the DUP, has long been known as an anti-Gay organization. In 1976, its founder, the Rev. Ian Paisley, launched a campaign to 'save Ulster from sodomy' in opposition to a proposal to decriminalize Gay sex. His son, Ian Paisley Jr., said in a 2007 interview that he was 'repulsed by homosexuals.' In 2008, party leader Peter Robinson said that God viewed Gay people as an 'abomination.'

DEMONSTRATORS WEIGH IN
The marriage motion sparked what the Belfast Telegraph called 'impassioned debate.'

Thousands of pro-equality demonstrators gathered outside Stormont, the building where the Assembly meets, in Belfast. Others marched in Derry, Northern Ireland's second-largest city.

Speaking at the protest at Guildhall Square in Derry, human rights activist Eamonn McCann noted continued prejudice against Northern Ireland's LGBT community.

'I think it's tremendously important that we highlight the continued oppression of Gay, Lesbian, Bi, and Transgendered people, particularly in a society where so much was made for so many years about the need for equality,' he said.

The debate in the Assembly itself was just as heated.

'Attitudes in Ireland are changing because people do not want to see people discriminated against, said Sinn Fein Assembly member Caitriona Ruane. 'The Gay community has said enough is enough - they are standing up for themselves and their communities.'

Ruane said young LGBT people are being driven to suicide by discrimination and bullying.

'If they don't have an alternative voice to the vitriolic Gay bashing they will internalize it,' she said. 'There is no room for sitting on the fence on this - this is about fighting for all our children's rights.'

John O'Doherty, chair of Equal Marriage Northern Ireland, said his group would keep trying until it succeeds in passing a new marriage law.

EQUALITY AN 'OBLIGATION'
According to BBC News, Amnesty International has threatened to bring suit in international courts to achieve equality.

'States may not discriminate with regard to the right to marry and found a family, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,' AI Northern Ireland program director Patrick Corrigan said.

'That obligation is clear in international law. This means that marriage should be available to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland just as it appears it soon will be in other parts of the U.K.

'Should politicians fail to act, there could be a straightforward legal challenge on the basis of inferior treatment of same-sex couples in Northern Ireland with regard to the right to marry and found a family.'

Although it is officially part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland is internally self-governing and is not covered by marriage equality legislation that recently passed the British House of Commons.

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