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Monday, 12 June 2017

LGBT activists call for thousands to join same-sex marriage march in Belfast

Written by David Young

Same-sex marriage campaigners in Northern Ireland have urged thousands of people to take to the streets in protest against the DUP's refusal to approve a law change.

LGBT activists gathered at Belfast City Hall to announce plans for a mass demonstration through the city on July 1.

They are hoping to ramp up the pressure on the region's largest political party to change its stance at a time when its policies on social issues are under renewed scrutiny due to the likely parliamentary deal with the minority Tory government.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland where same-sex marriage remains outlawed.

The DUP has used a controversial Stormont voting mechanism - the petition of concern - to prevent a law change, despite a majority of MLAs supporting the move at the last vote.

The party rejects any suggestion it is homophobic, insisting it is instead protecting the "traditional" definition of marriage.

Following March's snap Assembly election, the DUP no longer has the electoral strength to deploy a petition of concern in its own right, though it could still potentially combine with other socially conservative MLAs to do so.

That will only be tested once, and if, a devolved Assembly can be re-established out of the current political crisis in Belfast.

Highlighting the contrasting views on the issue in Northern Ireland, a nearby street preacher read passages from the Bible and denounced homosexuality as a sin as the LGBT campaigners made their announcement outside the landmark building.

John O'Doherty, of LGBT health group the Rainbow Project, said: "It is time for government to respect the will of the people of Northern Ireland, which is overwhelmingly in support of civil marriage equality.

"This march will be a demonstration of that support, a call for the people to be heard in the corridors of Stormont and of Westminster.

"Support for marriage equality crosses traditional political and religious differences in Northern Ireland, so we call on people of all backgrounds to join us on this great march for equality."

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International, said: "There is now a very clear majority within the Northern Ireland Assembly in favour of marriage equality.

"But if Stormont is incapable of delivering equality for the people of Northern Ireland then, through direct rule, it is the responsibility of the Westminster government.

"Marriage equality in Northern Ireland is a litmus test for whether or not any future government is committed to treating all citizens of this country equally. No backroom politics can be allowed to stand in the way of equality.

Belfast couple Catherine Couvert and Sally Bridge, who had a civil partnership ceremony in Belfast 2006, attended the launch event to urge others to take part in the march.

"We are living in a society that says we are not quite equal," said Ms Couvert.

"There is definitely more support for equal marriage than there is opposition and it's growing all the time, so we want the politicians to recognise it."

She added: "Society is moving faster than they are - they need to get with the programme."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Niall Carson / PA Wire.