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Same-sex marriage and abortion to be legalised in North if no power-sharing by 21 October

Amendments relating to same-sex marriage and abortion were passed in the House of Commons today.

House speaker John Bercow.
House speaker John Bercow.
Image: House of Commons/PA Wire/PA Images

MPS IN WESTMINSTER have voted to back an amendment that would extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland unless power-sharing is restored by 21 October 2019. 

MPs also voted overwhelmingly for an amendment to liberalise abortion law in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK where abortion is not available in the vast majority of cases.

It’s currently illegal for a woman in the North to get an abortion unless there’s a risk to her life or a serious risk to her mental health. This differs from the rest of the UK where abortion without restriction is allowed up to 24 weeks.

The amendments were part of a bill to ensure the continued governance of Northern Ireland in the absence of the power-sharing executive. 

The same-sex amendment was backed by 383 votes to 73. The abortion amendment, which was proposed by Labour MP Stella Creasy, was passed by 332 to 99.

Submitted by Labour MP Conor McGinn, the amendment was chosen earlier today by the Speaker’s Office. 

In a statement following the vote, McGinn said: “This a fantastic victory of the Love Equality campaign and everyone who has campaigned for many years for equal marriage in Northern Ireland.”

“I hope to see the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly restored and working by 21st October, so that they can take the decision to introduce equal marriage. But if Stormont isn’t functioning by then, the LGBT community in Northern Ireland now know that Westminster will act to ensure equality and respect for all citizens,” he added.

The DUP voted against both amendments. However, two MPs – Gavin Robinson and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson – were tellers, so did not vote. 

The party has not yet publicly commented on the vote. However, ahead of the votes, Nigel Dodds told the House of Commons that the proposals drove “a coach and horses through the principle of devolution”.

The party has consistently opposed both the introduction of same-sex marriage and abortion to Northern Ireland.

In a statement today, Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion said: “Marriage equality, like Irish language rights, victims and women’s rights should be addressed by the Assembly.”

“They have not been because rights have been repeatedly vetoed by the DUP, enabled by the British Government,” she added. “It was inevitable that the British Government’s failure to defend basic rights available everywhere else on these islands would be confronted. This was the message coming out of Westminster today.”

Graph A breakdown of how MPs voted for the same-sex marriage amendment. Source: House of Commons

“Today is a good day for Northern Ireland and for our LGBT+ community,” SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said in a statement. 

“After decades of discrimination, intolerance and abuse, often at the hands of the state, we have at last taken a step toward recognising the love of LGBT+ people as equal to that of anyone else. This is a watershed moment,” he said. 

On Twitter, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long thanked “all who kept NI women’s rights on the agenda”. 

In a statement, Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín, whose party is active on both sides of the border, called the vote an “attack on democracy”. 

“It is outrageous that British politicians with no democratic mandates in Ireland should seek to change this law in the north of Ireland,” he said.

“The referendum on the Eighth Amendment and the subsequent legislation were difficult for many of us but at least it was a democratic process,” Tóibín added.

Following the passing of the 2015 marriage equality referendum in Ireland, campaigners and activists have tried to increase pressure on UK politicians to legislate for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. 

Similarly, following the vote to repeal the eighth amendment last year campaigners on both sides of the border had promised that “the North is next”. 

The two candidates for Conservative leader both offered ambivalent responses to the questions of abortion and same-sex marriage. 

When asked about whether Westminster would legalise for more liberal abortion laws and same-sex marriage, Jeremy Hunt said: “If I was Northern Irish, I would want those changed.”

He added that “consensus in the province” was needed to move forward.

“I sincerely hope the law does change, but you need an element of social consent… All I was say is that opinions change, and change dramatically,” he said. 

Johnson said that it was a matter for Northern Ireland, and encouraged those elected to the Stormont Assembly to come to an agreement.

“The forum to solve these difficult political questions” was Stormont, he said.

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