StormontThe Northern Ireland Assembly has voted against introducing gay marriage for the third time.

Northern Ireland is the only region in the UK that has not legalised same sex marriage. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, was passed in July 2013 making gay marriage in England and Wales legal.  Similarly, Scotland passed new laws permitting same sex marriage in February this year.

A Sinn Féin motion to introduce legislation that would allow gay people to marry in Northern Ireland was defeated; Assembly members rejected the motion by 51 votes to 43. A year ago, the Assembly rejected a similar motion by 53 votes to 42.

Sinn Féin’s motion stated that religious institutions should have the freedom to decide whether or not to conduct same-sex marriages.

The move to legalise same sex marriage was opposed by both the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionist (UUP) party.

The Catholic hierarchy made an effort to reach every member of the assembly through a letter which implored them not to vote for the Bill, in which they described the Bill as undermining ‘a key foundation of common good.’ The letter went on to describe how introducing same sex marriage would threaten the traditional family unit.

‘[the Bill] will not, promote any normative or ideal family environment for raising children. It therefore implies that the biological bond and natural ties between a child and its mother and father have no intrinsic value for the child or for society.’ The letter said.

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International said opponents of gay marriage were like “latter-day King Canutes, trying in vain to hold back the tide of equality.”

“States may not discriminate with regards to the right to marry and found a family, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” he claimed. “That obligation is clear in international law.”

same-sex marriageSame sex marriage in England and Wales

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force in July 2013, but it was not until 13 March 2014 that couples were able to register their intention to marry under the Act.

Civil partnerships were introduced in England and Wales in 2005 to provide gay couples with the same legal rights as heterosexual partners but campaigners continued fighting to have their marriages recognised by law.

The first gay weddings happened at midnight on 29th March 2014 in Brighton, where lavish celebrations continued late into the night.

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