N. Ireland Politics

Scottish leaders call for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson Image copyright PA
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson have backed the same-sex marriage campaign

Political leaders in Scotland have joined to call for same-sex marriage to be introduced in Northern Ireland.

First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, and their Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat counterparts all voiced their support for a law change.

Their calls come ahead of a major gay rights rally in Belfast on Saturday.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the British Isles where same-sex marriage is outlawed.

The issue has long been a divisive one, with attempts to introduce it having been blocked by the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The party rejects claims that it is homophobic, and has said it is protecting the "traditional" definition of marriage.

The matter has become a sticking point in talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin aimed at restoring power-sharing at Stormont.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland where gay marriage is outlawed

Earlier this week, celebrities, including actor Liam Neeson and TV presenter Graham Norton, added their backing to the same-sex marriage campaign.

A bill to allow same-sex marriages in Scotland was overwhelmingly approved by the region's parliament in 2014, and the heads of its five main parties have now said the same measure should be introduced in Northern Ireland.

Ms Sturgeon said she was proud to have supported same-sex marriage in Scotland and was "thrilled to see the positive reaction" to it.

"The debate over equal marriage in Scotland did more than just simply allow people to marry," she said.

"It also helped to challenge negative attitudes that still exist today in our society towards LGBTI people and show, quite simply, that same-sex couples are just as valued as opposite sex couples."

'Conduct debate courteously'

Ms Davidson said she was "optimistic this is a battle that can be won".

"Equal marriage isn't about one religion or country or community - it's much simpler than that," the Scottish Tory leader said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Arlene Foster's DUP has blocked attempts in the assembly to introduce gay marriage

"At its heart, equal marriage is about the people of Northern Ireland being afforded the same rights as everybody else.

"Change is coming. And it's a change for the better."

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said that the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Scotland, England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland has been "liberating and encouraging".

The debate on the matter in Northern Ireland should be "conducted courteously", Ms Dugdale said, adding: "It's time for LGBT people across the whole of the UK to enjoy the right to marry who they want."

Patrick Harvie, the co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, said gay rights campaigners would not "accept that the prejudice of the DUP will never be overcome".

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the "world has not collapsed" since gay marriages first took place in Scotland.

The leaders' statements were released by the human rights organisation Amnesty International, which is campaigning for gay rights in Northern Ireland.

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