Northern Irish LGBT activists have called for UK Prime Minister Theresa May to intervene in the region to help secure equality, after a defeat at the High Court.
The High Court today rejected two challenges which had sought to secure equal marriage rights in Northern Ireland, which is the only part of the UK that still bans same-sex marriage.
Though a majority of Northern Ireland Assembly Members voted for equal marriage in 2015, the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party employed ‘petitions of concern’ to veto all legislation on the issue.
The DUP has vowed to continue employing its veto. To further hinder progress, the country’s Executive and Assembly are currently disbanded due to the collapse of power-sharing.
Following the court ruling, LGBT activists say that the only way to secure equal marriage in the region without the Assembly functioning is for the UK government to directly intervene.
Speaking after the judgment, Director of The Rainbow Project John O’Doherty said: “Of course, we would prefer that the Northern Ireland Assembly were in a position to grant these rights; the Assembly is not currently functioning.
“It is, therefore, the responsibility of Theresa May’s government to make the necessary amendments to the marriage legislation to make it applicable in Northern Ireland.
“The eyes of LGBT people around the world will now be on Theresa May. She says that she has changed her mind on LGBT equality over her years in Parliament. Now is her chance to prove it.”
Clare Moore of Love Equality concurred: “During this period of political instability it is now imperative that the Westminster government takes immediate action to ensure that the rights of LGBT people in United Kingdom are available for all UK citizens.”
UK Prime Minister Theresa May recently expressed her personal support for same-sex marriage, in an exclusive column for PinkNews.
Writing for PinkNews, Mrs May affirmed: “I want all British citizens to enjoy the fullest freedoms and protections. That includes equal marriage – because marriage should be for everyone, regardless of their sexuality.
“And while that is a matter for the devolved government of Northern Ireland, I will continue to make my position clear – that LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland should have the same rights as people across the rest of the UK.”
Given the continued failure of power-sharing talks in the country it is unclear whether Mrs May would go as far as to impose the issue via direct rule.
Any such decision would likely imperil her confidence and supply deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, which is crucial to keeping the Conservative government afloat in Westminster.
The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Arlene Foster recently vowed to keep blocking equal marriage.
She defended her actions by insisting gay people don’t really want to get married anyway.
Ms Foster said: “This suggestion that every single person who’s a homosexual wants to change the definition of marriage is actually wrong.
“I know plenty of people in that community who don’t want to see marriage redefined and are quite content to live in partnership… it’s all become a bit of a storm in a teacup.”
Foster has also branded the campaign for equal marriage “toxic” – for suggesting she has homophobic views.
She said: “[The] most frustrating thing about this whole debate is the fact that if you stand up for marriage and if you stand up for the definition of marriage as we believe in it, then in some way that makes you homophobic and a hater of gays.
“Nothing could be further from the truth as far as I personally am concerned and it really does hurt me when people call me a homophobe just because I stand up for the definition of marriage which I believe in and I think this debate has become very toxic.”
A senior DUP minister previously branded LGBT Pride events “totally repugnant”.