Patrick Corrigan, director of Amnesty International, stated that: “Politicians in Northern Ireland who continue to block marriage rights for same-sex couples are like latter-day King Canutes, trying in vain to hold back the tide of equality.”
“States may not discriminate with regards to the right to marry and found a family, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, he continued. “That obligation is clear in international law.”
The statement comes as the Northern Ireland Assembly debates the issue of marriage equality. The debate, led by the Sinn Féin party, asked the finance minister to draft legislation with backing from the first and deputy first ministers. The motion states that “other jurisdictions in Britain and Ireland have moved forward with same sex-marriage” and Northern Ireland should follow suit. Sinn Féin’s proposal has the support of the SDLP and Alliance Party, but is being blocked by the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The DUP have tabled an epitition of concern, which blocks any measure from passing unless it receives a majority of cross-community support. The party argues that same-sex marriage has no basis in either equality or human rights and threatens the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. The DUP’s motion means that any debate will have little legislative consequence, with minister’s merely debating in academic terms.
Sinn Féin’s debate follows an open letter from Catholic bishops in Northern Ireland which pled for ministers in the Assembly to oppose any legislative attempts to pass same-sex marriage. The bishops stated that same-sex marriage would undermine equality by “inappropriately” applying it.
It is the third time same-sex marriage has been considered by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Last year, a direct vote on the issue resulted in a loss, with 53 ministers in opposition and 42 in favor of same-sex marriage. Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, now trails its neighbors on the matter. England and Wales conducted their first same-sex marriages at the end of March while ceremonies in Scotland are expected to begin later this year. Northern Ireland’s southern relative, the Republic of Ireland, has scheduled a government-supported referendum on same-sex marriage for 2015, which is expected to be overwhelmingly supported by the public.
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