Westminster votes ‘signal a big change’ in Northern Ireland
Proposals to legalise same-sex marriage and to extend abortion access widely welcomed
Members of the LGBT community celebrate in Belfast, as same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland came a step closer. Photograph: Peter Morrison/PA
On Tuesday, the House of Commons voted by a majority of 310 votes – 383 to 73 – to a proposal from Labour MP Conor McGinn to legalise same-sex marriage if a new Stormont Executive is not formed by October 21st.
A proposal from Labour MP Stella Creasy to extend abortion access was also approved by 332 votes to 99.
Out North West group volunteer Xavier Beardwood (18) from Derry said that while the Westminster move was “a pleasant surprise”, it was “long overdue”. He said the Stormont limbo – there has been no devolved government at Stormont since January 2017 – meant it was “completely appropriate for Westminster to finally step in and act”.
“This is not just about same-gender couples having the ability to marry, it is a recognition of the fact that we are no less human than anyone else,” he said. “It means that trans people will no longer be forced to choose between having their gender legally recognised and maintaining their marriage.
“It means that young queer kids who are struggling to feel optimistic about the future will be more hopeful than before.
“However, it is important to recognise that marriage equality is not the be-all and end-all of LGBTQ+ rights, and while this is a step in the right direction, our journey is not over yet.”
A DUP spokesman said the outcome regarding same-sex marriage “is fairly clear”.
“The marriage issue is not so much Westminster riding in to save the day,” he said. “If the Assembly had been back after the Assembly election in 2017 it is highly likely it would have been legislated for locally.
“The abortion issue is less clear as what it means could be interpreted differently so it isn’t clear what legalisation would be brought forward.”
Veteran LGBT rights campaigner UUP Cllr Jeffrey Dudgeon, who was behind the move to have homosexuality decriminalised in the North decades ago, said the votes “signal a big change” in every department.
“Stormont can’t legislate, it has to be done in Westminster as it was in my day with decriminalisation,” he said.
Deputy leader of the Green Party Cllr Mal O’Hara said: “I’ll believe that change will really happen when the legislative process take effect but we have taken a huge stride forward.”
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said for a long time, ordinary people were “light years ahead” of the politicians on equality issues. “Soon the law may finally represent the views of the many, not the minority,” he said. “This will no doubt change the content of Stormont talks, but we remain steadfast in the belief that same-sex marriage, legal abortion, an Irish language act and the scrapping of welfare reform must remain red lines.
Alliance for Choice co-chair Emma Campbell said the significant movement at Westminster was to be welcomed. “We will continue our struggle until the day and hour every person in NI has an equal right and access to local abortion healthcare,” she added.