We were uncertain of the method, but always confident of that this could be done. I only wish my nineteen-year-old self could see us todayby Stephen Donnan-Dalzell / October 21, 2019 / Leave a comment
As of midnight tonight—or tomorrow; I’m never really sure how that works—marriage equality will be legalised, and abortion will be decriminalised in Northern Ireland. It feels rather strange to write those sentences as fact and not optimistic fiction, but here we are. I have been involved with the campaign to bring marriage equality to Northern Ireland since 2011, before the coalition government in Westminster introduced it in England and Wales, and now, six years later, we are on the cusp of an incredibly important day for civil rights. It came not with fanfare, or a referendum as in Australia and the Republic of Ireland, or even through the local Assembly which remains mothballed—bar a one-off meaningless reunion today—but via the adding of an amendment to the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Bill in July.
Labour MP and Armagh native Conor McGinn had been working closely with the Love Equality coalition to bring marriage equality to the floor of the House of Commons and was ultimately successful. On a quiet day in July, when most people back home were enjoying the bank holiday, we were there: a small group of activists who had dared to believe that one day it would be possible, watching BBC Parliament on the projector of the LGBT community centre in Belfast as the tellers called the results and we erupted in bittersweet jubilation.
McGinn’s amendment, and that of abortion rights campaigner Stella Creasy MP, were contingent on the Northern Ireland Assembly remaining gridlocked by political impasse until October 21st 2019—today.
The DUP, and some more conservative-minded MLAs, have sought to recall the NI Assembly today in an attempt to block the reforms. With Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, Green Party and People Before Profit MLAs explicitly stating that they won’t be attending, however, there is no hope of an Executive being formed. Despite calls from anti-choice groups to form an Executive for the single purpose of blocking legislative progress, then, the laws will become reality as of tomorrow.
Marriages won’t happen right away: the Northern Ireland Office needs time to pass the necessary guidelines and legislation. There are details to be worked out as part of this process. For instance, it’s not clear if Civil Partnerships will automatically convert to a marriage,…