Equality campaigners are celebrating same-sex marriage coming to Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to recognize same-sex marriage. England, Wales, and Scotland had their first same-sex marriages in 2014.
South of the border, the Republic of Ireland introduced same-sex marriage in 2015.
Many of Northern Ireland’s laws are decided by the devolved Parliament at Stormont in Belfast. This was controlled through a power-sharing agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party).
Although Sinn Féin was in favor of equal marriage, the DUP consistently blocked attempts to change the law. The DUP has often campaigned against LGBTQ rights. In the 1970s, its leader at the time ran an infamous campaign to ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy‘.
Often at loggerheads, the two parties fell out with one another in January 2017. Stormont has been suspended since. Last week marked 1,000 days since politicians assembled there. This has left the region politically paralyzed. With no end in sight to the impasse, the British Parliament in Westminister stepped in.
It ruled in July that if Stormont failed to re-establish itself by October, 21, it would introduce new laws to the region. Midnight tonight is the deadline for a return of the Assembly, but there is no expectation of Stormont convening today.
This means Westminster will press ahead with legislation for sex-marriage – and Stormont cannot block it.
Abortion will also become legal: Like equal marriage, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where abortion remained criminalized. As of midnight, a woman in Northern Ireland cannot be prosecuted if she chooses to terminate her pregnancy.
The intervention by Westminster means Northern Ireland officials will be instructed to start amending regulations to allow same-sex couples to marry. This is expected to take 12 weeks. From 13 January 2020, couples will be able to give 28 days’ notice to marry. The first weddings are expected on Valentine’s Day 2020.
“After nine years campaigning and over 1,000 days since the assembly last sat, equal marriage is finally in sight for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland,” said John O’Doherty of the Love Equality Campaign and Director of The Rainbow Project.
“We would like to thank everyone who supported our campaign – this would not have been possible. We now look to Jan 13th and will spend the coming months ensuring legislation meets the needs of same-sex couples in Northern Ireland.
“LGBT+ rights in Northern Ireland have always been hard-won, and the impact of this change will be felt across Northern Ireland and for generations to come.”