Same-sex marriage activists meet with DUP for first time
Love Equality NI expresses disappointment that DUP has not changed its stance
DUP representatives and activists from Love Equality NI meeting in Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Photograph: DUP/PA Wire
An activist group spearheading the campaign for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland met the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for the first time on Tuesday.
The DUP opposes changes to marriage legislation and its use of a contentious Stormont voting mechanism has effectively blocked attempts to introduce marriage equality laws in the past.
The issue is one of the key disputes at the heart of the year-long deadlock over restoring powersharing at Stormont, with Sinn Féin citing a law change as a prerequisite to the re-establishment of a devolved government.
A DUP team led by former health minister Edwin Poots held a 45-minute meeting with the campaign group Love Equality NI at Parliament Buildings. The exchange took place as political talks aimed at restoring powersharing continue.
Afterwards, John O’Doherty, from Love Equality NI, expressed disappointment that the DUP had not changed its stance. “The DUP remains unfortunately opposed to the introduction of equal marriage,” he said.
Protect minority interests
Mr O’Doherty said the party was less clear on whether it would attempt to use the petition of concern mechanism to block same-sex marriage proposals again. The petition is a peace process construct designed to protect minority interests within the Assembly.
If 30 members of the 90-strong legislature sign a petition of concern, votes can only be carried with the support of a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalist members, rather than a straight headcount.
If the Assembly was restored, the DUP would not have enough MLAs to trigger a petition on its own, but it could potentially join forces with other conservatives to reach the 30 threshold.
Mr O’Doherty said the fact the meeting had taken place was a positive development.
“We want to achieve the position where equality for everyone is celebrated by everyone for Northern Ireland,” he said. “No-one has anything to fear from equality, no-one has anything to fear from marriage equality and that is the message we want to bring to everybody in Northern Ireland.”
A DUP spokeswoman said: “Edwin Poots MLA led a delegation to meet with Love Equality. The group asked for a meeting to lobby the party on the redefinition of marriage.
“The DUP has a mandated policy to defend the current definition of marriage . . .The debate about this matter can be highly energised. We would urge respect and sensitivity on all sides.”