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Northern Ireland Voted to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage But the Measure Was Vetoed in Parliament

Malachai O’Hara and Michael McCartan in Northern Ireland

Pictured: Malachai O’Hara and Michael McCartan 

Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK or Ireland where same-sex couples cannot get legally married. Today, Northern Ireland’s assembly voted narrowly in favor of marriage equality, according to The Guardian, but the Democratic Unionists (DUP), the largest party in the devolved parliament, was able to veto any changes in the law. 

With 53 votes in favor, the measure was backed by a slight majority. In the four previous votes attempting to bring marriage equality to the county, the motions were voted down by a narrow majority. The reason for today’s pro-equality vote is four independent unionist assembly members joined nationalists and others to eek out the slender majority. 

The Democratic Unionists were able to fell the motion with a “petition of concern,” arguing that the pro-marriage reform law did not garner sufficient cross-community support.

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This political angling comes from the region’s complicated power sharing rules, engendered by the Northern Ireland’s troubled past. Basically parties from either the unionist or nationalist community can use petitions of concern if they feel a certain legislation does not have enough support from Protestants or Catholics. The rule was put into place to make sure that no single community dominated over the other following the 1998 Belfast agreement.

The DUP is greatly influenced by the conservative Evangelical Christian community, particularly the Free Presbyterian church. 

Last month, Malachai O’Hara and Michael McCarran married in Belfast, in what organizers called a “Big Fat Gay Wedding,” to protest the government’s refusal to legalize same sex marriage. The couple had been together for five years and officially unofficially tied the knot on Belfast’s culture night on September 17. They, along with another couple have invited Northern Ireland Assembly members to their weddings — if they vote to legalize them, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

“Michael and I would dearly love to get married for real, just as our siblings are able to do,” O’Hara said. “We are ready and waiting to be a married couple. We shouldn’t really have to ask the permission of 108 politicians at Stormont [the site of Northern Ireland's government buildings] to do so. We know that most people in Northern Ireland want the law changed. Now we just need our politicians to stop getting in the way of us living our lives.”

O’Hara and McCarran, along with Jayne Robinson and Laura McKee, planned to attend Monday's debate at Stormont dressed in wedding regalia as a form of protest. As Robinson said:

"I love Laura and I know she loves me. Just like most other couples in a long-term, committed relationship, we want to get married. At the moment our politicians are stopping us. We want them to take the politics out of our personal lives and give us the same rights as couples in the rest of the UK and Ireland. If the politicians pass a marriage equality law for Northern Ireland, we'll invite them to our wedding."

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