Belfast demonstrators urge end to same-sex marriage ban

Reverend appeals to DUP not to block legislation while ‘love train’ heads North in support


Thousands of people from across Ireland have taken part in a “March for Marriage” in Belfast calling for the immediate introduction of civil marriage rights for the LGBT community in the North.

Men, women, children and their pets paraded through the streets of the city on Saturday demanding equal civil marriage be introduced without delay.

At present Northern Ireland is the only region in the UK and Ireland not to have extended civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Marriage-equality motions have come before the Stormont Assembly on five occasions.

In 2016, a motion received a majority in favour for the first time but the DUP used the “petition of concern” mechanism to block the move.

The petition of concern requires at least 40 per cent of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present to support a motion in order for it to pass.

Hairdresser Connor Kerr (27) from Belfast believes “marriage equality is about so much more than the loving union”.

“It’s about sending a positive message to the thousands of young and often afraid, depressed and even suicidal LGBTQ people around this country and abroad that are feeling second with second-class rights in a country seemingly ever more isolated from the rest of western Europe,” he said.

“Marriage equality in Northern Ireland will undoubtedly go a long way to improving and strengthening relations between and within all communities across our beautiful country.”

Charity worker Anne Madden (41) from Belfast said: “It is brilliant to see such a big turnout today.

“People from all across the community are supporting us and I hope it sends a signal to those who would deny us equal marriage.”

The parade was led by Alliance Party Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister.

“Marriage equality was passed at Belfast City Council so I feel it is my responsibility to ensure our LGBTQ are represented in Belfast and I am absolutely delighted and indeed proud to be with them today,” she said.

Rev Chris Hudson from All Souls Church in Belfast called on the DUP to follow Germany’s example in not blocking marriage equality if government is restored at Stormont.

Rev Hudson said it was “unfair” that Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK and Ireland not have marriage equality.

“I particularly appeal to the Democratic Unionist Party that when we have an Executive up and running that they will not countenance using a petition of concern and will support an open and free vote, which I believe will mean marriage equality will be introduced.

“We have seen that happen in Germany in the last couple of days and I think that is the example to be used here.

“It still allows people to act according to their conscience but it also allows fairness and inclusiveness in the good society of Northern Ireland.”

Members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions took a “love train” from Dublin to Belfast to support the rally in Belfast.

Clare Moore from Ictu said: “Having fully supported the successful Yes Equality referendum campaign in the Republic of Ireland, trade unions have seen how extending marriage equality to all citizens has helped transform our society, making it more inclusive and tolerant.”

Lynda Sheridan on the ‘love train’ up to Belfast
Lynda Sheridan on the ‘love train’ up to Belfast

Lynda Sheridan from Dublin was one of those on the train.

“I just wanted to go along to show my support to our colleagues in the North. Every campaign we had in the Republic they supported us, so it is our turn to support them now,” she said.

Alan Edge and Sean Cummins, both from Dublin, said they were attending to show solidarity with Northern colleagues in their bid for equality.

“We thought the train was a lovely idea, harkening back to the Contraceptive Train,” said Mr Edge.

National Union of Journalists Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley and Siptu’s Ethel Buckley were key organisers of the Trade Union Campaign for Marriage Equality in the Republic.

Mr Dooley said the train was a “gesture of support and is in the great tradition of the ‘contraceptive train’, which campaigners utilised to demand the right of access to contraceptives in the Republic”.

Mr Dooley believes with sharp focus on the DUP’s stance on social issues following their recent deal to support Theresa May’s government in Britain, Saturday’s parade was a good opportunity to show solidarity.

“We know many people want to support the campaign for civil marriage equality in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“This is an opportunity to do so at a time when the eyes of the world are on those who have sought to obstruct that campaign.”