THE NORTHERN ASSEMBLY has voted against calls to legalise civil marriage for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland.
MLAs voted 53 to 42 against a call from Sinn Féin asking the power-sharing executive to legislate so that same-sex couples would enjoy full marriage rights.
Sinn Féin’s motion had followed on from the Constitutional Convention in the Republic, where 79 per cent of members supported a recommendation that the Irish Government amend the constitution and allow full civil marriage for homosexual couples.
The motion noted that the Convention included “the participation of parties from the Assembly”. Four of the 100 members of the Convention are MLAs; they include the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.
The Alliance Party, which often holds the balance of power in the 108-member Assembly, had proposed an amendment which would have ensured faith groups still had the right “to define, articulate and practise religious marriage as they determine”.
Sinn Fein supported the amendment, but both the amendment and the motion itself were voted down by members of the two main Unionist parties, the DUP and the UUP.
The Unionist members had called for a cross-community vote on the main motion – a procedure which means a majority of members from both of the designated Nationalist and Unionist groups was needed.
The call meant that the motion would almost certainly be defeated, irrespective of whether an overall majority was in favour of it.
As it happened, only three of the 53 Unionist votes were in favour of the move, while all 37 Nationalists – from Sinn Féin and the SDLP – voted Yes.
Ahead of the vote, Sinn Féin’s Caitriona Ruane said the DUP “might block the motion today, but equal marriage is coming. Sinn Féin is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBT community.”
The vote was the second time in six months that Unionist MLAs blocked proposals to allow full marriage equality for same-sex couples: a previous vote in October was defeated by 50 votes to 45.