The vast majority of residents in the British Isles live in places where same-sex marriage is legal. While, following its legalization in Irealnd, Scotland, England, and Wales, most marriage equality advocates have turned their attention to Northern Ireland, it isn't truly the last hold out. Earlier this week, Allan Bell, the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, a self-governing island located in the Irish Sea, announced his intention to pursue marriage equality legislation, adding that he himself is a gay man.
The British Isles, that grouping of more than 6000 islands in north eastern Europe, is of course dominated by two countries: the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The current political situation is the result of centuries of ever-shifting relations, which have resulted in a patchwork system, with various powers devolved to different regions. Such a complex maze has proved an obstacle for proponents of marriage equality. This summer, the Republic of Ireland overwhelmingly voted to legalize same-sex marriage, bringing it in line with England and Wales (which legalized it in May 2014) and Scotland (which legalized it in December 2014). Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, remains the most significant holdout, but none of the three Crown Dependencies have same-sex marriage either. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey are not part of the United Kingdom—although they are closely integrated on issues like defence and foreign relations—they belong to the Queen, who is known as the Lord of Mann and the Duke of Normandy, respectively, to those subjects.
The Isle of Man has about 85,000 residents and is known for its tailess cats, six-horned sheep, and it's international reputation as a tax haven. It also has the longest continuous parliament in the world, Tynwald, which dates back 1000 years. Bell, who was elected to the senior position in 2011, recently spoke with the Guardian about his decision to pursue the legalization of marriage equality, saying:
“The message the Isle of Man has to send out in 2015 is that we are a tolerant, inclusive, open society. We abhor discrimination of any description and are outward looking and engaged with the outside world.”
He said that the recent vote in Ireland was also an influencer:
“It helped to clarify my thoughts on a few things, and picking up the reaction locally I’ve not heard a single negative reaction to it, and that’s quite heartening.”
Speaking of his sexuality and partner of 21 years:
“People know that I’m gay. I’ve never made a secret of it, but no one has ever asked me."
Bell said that he plans on introducing the legisaltion this coming session, along with a non-discrimination bill. He said that he will allow a free conscious vote, and is confient that the move will be successful.