A backbench push wouldn't only give long-overdue rights to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland—it could actually help the DUP and Theresa May. Allow me to explain...by Adam McGibbon / February 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
Following last week’s collapse of the talks to restore the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland, a return to ‘Direct Rule’ looms. Owen Smith, Labour shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, has urged Theresa May to ‘take forward equal marriage’ for the one part of the UK where LGBT people are denied this civil right. On Wednesday, Labour’s Conor McGinn—who is from Northern Ireland—said that he would be prepared to introduce a Private Members Bill if the government did not act.
McGinn had better get drafting, because the truth is Theresa May will not act. She is beholden to the Democratic Unionist Party for her government’s survival and is clearly afraid at upsetting them. Even if she wasn’t, she is happy—like many British politicians—to ignore the grave injustices being perpetrated across the Irish Sea.
LGBT people in the North have waited too long for their rights. We are now in the situation where everyone else in these isles has the right to have their love recognised. Across the Irish Sea or over the border, same-sex marriage is legal. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where it is not. If this was happening in Wales or Scotland, the government would have intervened long ago.
Yet the same shaky parliamentary arithmetic that leaves May beholden to the conservative DUP also provides an opportunity that has eluded campaigners for decades—and provides a way for backbench members to step up and create change.
A victory for reproductive rights
Last year, Labour’s Stella Creasy led a major advance for Northern Ireland’s women, on behalf of the brave, tenacious activists in the North who have fought for decades for the right to choose. An alliance of opposition MPs and rebel Tories forced the government’s hand into providing access to free abortions in Britain for Northern Irish women. With the Tories leading a minority government, it only took a few rebels to get it passed.
Similar tactics could be used again to address another heinous injustice: the denial of the basic human right to marry. True, the thousands of brave, unrelenting LGBT activists in the North who have fought for decades would probably have preferred it if their own politicians could have recognised their rights.
A law would also, surely, come…