Richard Angell: Marriage for all, now – we will not forget Northern Ireland


Marriage Week celebrates commitment and reminds us that not everyone in the United Kingdom can get married.

Marriage Week (7-14 February) has arrived and marriage equality is on the march. Australia, via an all-postal plebiscite, and Germany, through a vote in the Bundestag, are high-profile additions to the family of nations that allow marriage for all. But it is on our doorstep that this injustice persists.

Scrub that: it is not our doorstep but inside our home terrain. The people of Northern Ireland still do not have the right for same-sex couples to marry.

This has almost completely been forgotten. It gets a passing reference as the anniversary of the Irish equal marriage referendum is celebrated, or when the Democratic Unionist party leadership say on Brexit that there should be regulatory alignment with the rest of the United Kingdom on trade policy but not human rights. Remember it is the DUP’s ‘petitions of concern’ that thwart the majority that exists for the issue in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

But these fleeting moments will not bring the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community of the six counties the equality they deserve. It is a glaring injustice and should be sorted – now.

Worse still, the most likely action is a retrograde step. The courts have told the government that they must clear up the inconsistency that the Civil Partnerships Act – brought in by Tony Blair’s government to recognise same-sex unions in 2004 – does not apply to straight couples. There are many that reject the patriarchal form that marriage takes but would like a civil partnership. Some four million unmarried couples could benefit from this change. The government, when Justine Greening was the secretary of state for equalities, was minded to make the change – former children’s minister Tim Loughton has a private member’s bill on the issue. But the government has gone cold now the only openly-LGBT woman has left the cabinet. That leaves the government one alternative to meet the conditions of the courts – abolish civil partnerships altogether.

With a government as ridiculous as this, desperate to pander to its rightwing flank (who hate civil partnerships for weakening marriage – yes we have come full circle) anything is possible.

That backward step would not just give uncertainty to all those that are in a civil partnership, it would render the LGBT community of Northern Ireland without any commitment rights in law at all. In an hour-long discussion about Loughton’s bill on last Friday’s LBC programme with Andrew Pierce, the people of Northern Ireland did not come up once. Nor did they in the Telegraph’s front page story on the issue last week. The six counties are literally forgotten from this debate.

Everyone across the UK should have the same human rights: to get a civil partnership or get married, if you are straight or LGBT, and in all four corners of the union. Simple.

So we have to strengthen our resolve. We must not stop until the whole of the UK and Ireland have marriage equality. Until everyone can marry who they love and have it recognised in law.

Marriage Week should not just be to celebrate commitment but a remember that there are those who make a commitment that the law refuses to recognise. We will not forget Northern Ireland.

Richard Angell is LGBT Officer of the Labour Party Irish Society.

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