Speaking at an Alliance Party Conference Dinner in Belfast on Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar expressed his regret that the North has yet to catch up with the Republic of Ireland in delivering marriage equality and the right to choose.
In the wake of landslide referenda on marriage equality and abortion, the Taoiseach said, the Republic is unrecognisable as the same country he grew up in – a place where divorce was forbidden, being gay was something to hide and women facing crisis pregnancy faced it alone. Northern Ireland, though, has yet to fully catch up with the progressive policies of the South.
Westminster Fails To Legislate For Marriage Equality
The UK government currently refuses to legislate for marriage equality in Northern Ireland, calling it an issue for the Northern Ireland government. On Friday, gay politician Lord Hayward withdrew an amendment that would have seen same-sex marriage, already legal across the UK, extended to Northern Ireland.
The withdrawal came after Equalities Minister Baroness Williams told the House of Lords that her government “wants to see Northern Ireland legalise same-sex marriage, but did not support the amendment”. “The proper and best place” for marriage equality to be addressed, Williams claimed, “is in the Northern Ireland Assembly by Northern Ireland’s elected representatives.”
Since the breakdown of relations between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin in January 2017, Northern Ireland has not had a functioning Executive and Assembly. For so long as this situation continues, the position taken by the UK government leaves marriage equality in the hands of an administration that is nonexistent.
Lord Hayward agreed to withdraw the amendment, but added that should the absence of a government in Northern Ireland continue for long he will make another bid to introduce marriage equality in the North through legislative means. “I do desire that there should be an Assembly in Belfast which takes hold of this matter,” he said, “but we cannot say it goes on forever.”
Meanwhile, reports suggest that support for marriage equality among the population of Northern Ireland is as high as 76%.
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