Under an amendment approved by the House of Commons, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley must make regulations to change the law by 21 October this year, unless a new power-sharing executive has been created by that
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where gay and lesbian couples cannot marry, after same-sex weddings were legalised in England and Wales in 2013 and in Scotland the following year. The first same-sex marriages in the Republic of Ireland took place in 2015, after the country voted for reform in a referendum.
Despite growing pressure for reform in Northern Ireland, changes in a devolved issue have been rendered impossible by the collapse of the power-sharing executive in January 2017.
The move to extend same-sex marriage rights was tabled by Labour MP Conor McGinn – who grew up in Northern Ireland – as an amendment to legislation extending the deadline for new elections to the devolved assembly from August to October 21.
Mr McGinn told the Commons that his proposals would introduce an “interim” change to the law which could be overturned by the assembly once it is up and running. The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill must complete its passage through the Commons later today and then go to the Lords before becoming law.
The St Helens North MP said that Parliament had “failed a generation of people in Northern Ireland” by not decriminalising homosexuality or introducing same-sex marriage at the same time as these changes were introduced in the rest of the UK.
“Tonight, we have a chance to do the right thing,” he told MPs. “People in Northern Ireland – and indeed across Britain and Ireland – are watching.”
Shadow Northern Ireland minister Karin Smyth said voting to pave the way for equal marriage in Northern Ireland was a “great testament” to murdered journalist Lyra McKee, who had been planning her own wedding to her female partner at the time of her death during riots in Derry in April.
Following the vote, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Would rather the Northern Ireland Assembly was doing this but in its absence, marriage equality and human rights can’t wait.
Paul Twocock of LGBT rights group Stonewall said: ‘This is a huge step forward for LGBT equality in the UK and a tribute to those who have spent years building momentum and public support for equal marriage in Northern Ireland.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland director and part of the Love Equality coalition, said: “This is an incredible moment and a huge cause for celebration. Marriage equality in Northern Ireland is finally a reality.
“For more than five years, same-sex couples in the rest of the UK have been able to get married whilst this right has been denied to citizens in Northern Ireland. Now, in just three months’ time, we could see the first same-sex couples here tying the knot. Today’s a day for the history books.”