Northern Ireland’s biggest party will continue to block the legalisation of same-sex marriage, it tells The Spoke, despite a parliamentary majority being in favour of the change.
In response to questions raised by The Spoke, a spokesman for the Democratic Unionist Party said the party “supports the traditional definition of marriage of one man and one woman. We don’t believe marriage should be redefined.” The party repeatedly declined to comment further on this point.
A 20’000 strong petition campaigning for the legalisation of same-sex marriage had recently been presented to the NI Assembly, with People before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll warning the DUP that they “were on the wrong side of history.”
The petition, while primarily supporting a change to the law, condemns the DUP for using their power as the majority unionist party to veto the decision of the Assembly in last November’s same sex marriage vote. The motion passed with a majority of one vote, but the DUP blocked the amendment, implementing a ‘petition of concern’ – citing a lack of support from unionists.
After a 2016 poll conducted by Love Equality revealed 70% of the NI population to be in support of same-sex marriage, LGBT activists have complained about the ‘undemocratic’ actions of the DUP.
“We are in a unique situation in Northern Ireland where a minority of MLAs are in a position to veto legislation,” says Stephan Donnan, communications and campaign officer for LGBT group, Love Equality. “It is clear that the majority of people in Northern Ireland supports the introduction of marriage equality.”
Dr Fiona Bloomer, a lecturer in Social Policy at Ulster University, is concerned that the DUP’s position is contributing towards a negative image of Northern Ireland. “The DUP’s position on this is certainly a hamper on us being viewed as a fully democratic society.”
With approximately 30% of the country’s voters, and support from the Churches on many social issues, the DUP represents a large proportion of Northern Ireland.
“(Same sex marriage) has been wrongly portrayed as a simple equality issue,” said a Presbyterian Church spokesperson. “It is not an equality issue, it is an attempt to redefine marriage for all of society.”
Last November’s vote marked the fifth time that the issue of same sex marriage had been defeated in the Assembly since 2007. However, activists remain defiant.
“Our campaign believes that marriage equality is inevitable in Northern Ireland,” says Donnan, “it is just a matter of time.”