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Marriage equality push falters in Northern Ireland

Marriage equality

By Jacob Combs

A bid for marriage equality in Northern Ireland has failed, the Belfast Telegraph reports, after the Democratic Unionist and Ulster Unionist parties voted against a Sinn Féin proposal in the Northern Ireland Assembly.  Sinn Féin’s equal marriage push had the support of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Alliance Party and the Green Party.

Following the vote, Amnesty International announced yesterday that it would likely spearhead a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights after the failure of the assembly to provide equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.  Amnesty, along with other LGBT rights groups, had originally threatened to file a lawsuit after the Assembly last month voted to exclude Northern Ireland from the marriage equality bill which passed the House of Commons earlier this year and is due for a third reading in the near future.

The Assembly’s March vote, LGBT rights groups argued, would essentially nullify a same-sex couple’s marriage license obtained in another areas of the United Kingdom if the couple relocated to Northern Ireland.  Patrick Corrigan, the Northern Ireland program director of Amnesty International, told the Guardian in March that a state cannot treat couples in different territories unequally under European law:

“That obligation is clear in international law. This means marriage should be available to same sex couples in Northern Ireland just as soon as it will be to couples in other parts of the UK. There could be a straightforward legal challenge on the basis of inferior treatment of same sex couples in Northern Ireland with regards to the right to marry and found a family.”

A legal challenge could also be filed in the British courts.

The main marriage equality bill currently pending in the House of Commons would only apply to England and Wales.  The Scottish government released its own marriage equality proposal last December and asked for public feedback on the matter.  Unlike the law for England and Wales, religious institutions in Scotland would be allowed to “opt in” to marrying same-sex couples.  The Scottish legislation would not take effect until 2015.

Earlier this month, a convention established to recommend reforms to the Irish Constitution voted overwhelmingly in favor of providing full marriage rights to same-sex couples.  That change would have to be approved by voters before couples were allowed to wed.

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