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Theresa May Refuses to Push Vote on Marriage Equality in Northern Ireland

Prime Minister Theresa May claims she will not intervene in Northern Ireland to pass same-sex marriage while the nation’s Parliament remains in gridlock.

Stormont has been deadlocked for 15 months over stalled negotiations between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) over power-sharing in the local legislature. During that impasse, lawmakers are unable to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriageeven despite overwhelming support for equality legislation. An estimated 70 percent of the Northern Irish public favors allowing LGBTQ couples to marry.

A petition urging May to end the standstill was presented to 10 Downing Street this week by Cara McCann and Amanda McGurk, a same-sex couple waiting to tie the knot. Over 42,000 people signed onto the appeal.

But for now, May says the matter is out of her hands. The British Prime Minister claims the issue is “devolved,” meaning it’s up to politicians in Belfast to resolve.

“This is an issue that we have taken up, it is an issue we have championed,” May said this week, as the U.K. newspaper The Independent reports. “We hope that there will be a Northern Ireland executive in place soon that will be able to address these issues.”

The United Kingdom legalized marriage equality in 2013 under the tenure of predecessor David Cameron, paving the way for same-sex couples to wed in England and Wales. Scotland passed its own legislation in February 2014, but previous efforts in Northern Ireland have failed due to opposition from the DUP.

After the Stormont Assembly voted in favor of marriage equality in November 2015, the DUP filed a “Petition of Concern” to block it.

Critics have accused May of not doing more to push same-sex unions in fear of alienating allies in Northern Ireland’s nationalist party. After the Conservative Party lost its Parliamentary majority last year, the Prime Minister relies on DUP votes to support her agenda.

Labour MP Ged Killen claimed May is “hiding behind” her conservative backers, even despite her own support for same-sex marriage.

But other politicians hope to compel Parliament to take matters into its own hands. Conor McGinn, also a member of the Labour Party, introduced legislation in the House of Commons calling for Northern Ireland to allow LGBTQ couples to marry. In a passionate address delivered to his colleagues, he claimed lawmakers “have a duty to ensure that our fellow citizens enjoy the same rights as the rest of us.”

“The defacto suspension of the devolved legislature does not mean that equality for same sex couples can be suspended indefinitelybecause rights delayed are rights denied,” McGinn said.

A similar proposal has been put forward in the House of Lords.

Should Westminster decide to back same-sex unions, it is likely to make the difference amid the legislative logjam. The Northern Ireland Office of the U.K. government claims its policy is “to allow a free vote on matters of conscience such as equal marriage” should Parliament urge further action, as The Independent reports.

Photo via Jack Taylor/Getty Images


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.