Tuesday 30 April 2013

Motion for same-sex marriage fails in Northern Ireland

Over the past few months same sex marriage has been approved in England and Wales and in France, with a strong recommendation for a constitutional amendment for same sex marriage in Ireland (from the Constitutional Convention). Yesterday a motion calling for legislation on same-sex marriage was rejected in the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont.

The outcome was not unexpected: a similar motion had failed in October last year. However, with same-sex marriage about to become a reality in England and Wales, Sinn Féin (United Left), supported by the SDLP (S&D), the Greens and Alliance (ALDE), tabled the motion to put political pressure on the Unionist parties, the DUP (Non-Aligned) and UUP (ECR). (The biggest unionist party, the DUP, has a strongly socially conservative outlook and a religious voting base, so it was always unlikely to support the measure).

The motion was defeated by 53 to 45. Not only was it defeated by a simple majority, but the DUP presented a Petition of Concern, which under the NI Assembly’s procedural rules, triggers a community veto. This means that the motion would have needed a majority in both the Unionist and Nationalist communities to pass. The Alliance Party tabled an amendment to the motion that would have stressed the right of religion to define marriage in their own way alongside civil marriage, but this was defeated by a similar voting coalition to the motion itself.

Amnesty International has stated that legal action, perhaps before the European Court of Human Rights, over the issue is likely. The Court has previously ruled that, based on a reading of the Convention and the lack of a European consensus on the issue, same-sex marriage is not covered by theConvention. However, the Court may reverse the decision, or focus on the fact that same-sex marriage will be available to the majority of UK citizens and make a more UK/NI specific ruling.

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