Northern Ireland must follow the lead on equal rights

It’s time for Northern Ireland to follow the rest of the country’s lead on same-sex marriage laws.

MSPs recently voted in favour of the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill in Scotland this February, by an overwhelming majority: 105 votes to 18. This followed England and Wales’s passing of the bill in July 2013.

As it is a matter that falls under devolution, each part of the UK has separately considered this highly significant issue, and Northern Ireland is now the only remaining part of the UK in which same-sex marriage is not legal.

In a February 2014 speech at Queen’s University Belfast, the UK Supreme Court Judge Lord Wilson spoke in favour of Northern Ireland passing the bill, and claimed that mutual respect in the UK has grown since the introduction of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.

Although the 2004 Civil Partnership Act was a step towards equal rights for homosexual couples, the recent marriage bills have been recieved incredibly positively by advocates for equal rights because these couples are now considered, by law, equal to male-female couples.

This public view is reflected by research: a June 2012 YouGov survey reported highly accepting attitudes of the British population toward LGBT rights, and in 2013 a survey found that of those who thought same-sex marriage to be an important issue, 58% would be more likely to vote for a party which supported it.

The refusal of Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly to consider legislation to allow same-sex marriages has disheartened many. The fact that Northern Ireland is more religious and, arguably, traditional, than the rest of the UK has been used as an argument for them leaving this subject as it stands.

However, with homosexuality still a crime in many countries, often with extreme punishment attached to it (recently reinstated as law in Uganda), it is becoming more and more apparent that the countries with an accepting and open attitude towards homosexuality must take a united stand in granting all the rights to same-sex couples that other couples already have.

The public outcry against Russia’s homosexual propaganda law, exacerbated by the Sochi Winter Olympics, has emphasised the change in attitudes towards this matter, and the sway of public opinion in many countries towards fairer, more equal legislation in relation to it. 

Therefore, it is my strong opinion that Northern Ireland should follow the rest of the UK in legalising gay marriage, not only for the people of this country but for those worldwide who need European support and evidence of growing comradeship in their fight for rights.

Sophie Louise Houghton is a Year 12 student.