A slim majority of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favor of marriage equality on Monday, only to have the Assembly’s largest party step in to veto the law.
According to The Guardian, the motion for marriage equality failed after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) used a “petition of concern” to argue that the law change did not have significant support.
Under the rules governing the Assembly, put in place after the 1998 Belfast Agreement as part of the Northern Ireland peace process, parties from either the unionist or nationalist community can use the “petition of concern” if they feel there is not enough backing from Protestants or Catholics for a particular piece of legislation. The procedure was intended to ensure that no one community dominated the other or forced through legislation that would be unpalatable to one side.
As a result of the veto, Northern Ireland will remain the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is not legal. The Guardian notes that the Democratic Unionist Party, in particular, is influenced by the socially conservative Evangelical Christian community, particularly the Free Presbyterian church.
International human rights organization Amnesty International said the vote marked a “significant milestone towards marriage equality.”
“It shows that, slowly but surely, politicians are catching up with public opinion here, which has been in favor of equal marriage for same-sex couples for some years,” Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s program director in Northern Ireland, told The Irish News.
“However,” Corrigan added, “the abuse of the petition of concern, to hold back rather than uphold the rights of a minority group, means that Stormont [the site of the Assembly] has once again failed to keep pace with equality legislation elsewhere in the UK and Ireland.”
Some LGBT couples are planning legal action to challenge Northern Ireland’s ban on same-sex marriage, even pledging to take the fight to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Assembly has previously voted four separate times on marriage equality, with narrow majorities against changing the law to allow same-sex couples to marry. In April, during the most recent vote, marriage equality opponents prevailed by only two votes.
Peter Lynas from the Evangelical Alliance told the Belfast Telegraph that the Alliance does not support same-sex marriage, arguing that the better way to address concerns raised by the LGBT community is to reform civil partnership legislation.
“If the latest motion in Stormont is really about equality then we are happy to have a discussion about how you fix the civil partnership legislation — we think that’s the way to do it,” Lynas said.
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