Northern Ireland

Gay marriage: NI Assembly rejects motion for fourth time

NI Assembly debate on equal marriage
Image caption A total of 96 MLAs took part in the vote and 49 voted against the Sinn Féin motion calling for civil marriage equality for all, including gay and lesbian couples

The Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected a proposal calling for the introduction of gay marriage, after debating the issue for a fourth time.

A total of 96 MLAs took part in the vote and 49 voted against the Sinn Féin motion calling for civil marriage equality for all, with 47 in favour.

Sinn Féin, SDLP and five Alliance MLAs supported the motion. The DUP opposed it and the Ulster Unionists were given a free vote on the issue.

Of 53 unionists, only four voted yes.

Ahead of the vote, a petition of concern was tabled, meaning the motion would require cross-community support from both unionists and nationalists to succeed. However, it did not come into play.

A full breakdown of the vote has been published on the assembly website.

The controversy surrounding Northern Ireland's DUP health minister, Jim Wells, featured heavily in the debate.

'Violated pledge'

The health minster issued a public apology on Friday, after he was recorded on camera making comments linking gay relationships and child abuse.

Mr Wells then announced his resignation on Monday, after it was confirmed that police are also investigating an incident involving a lesbian couple during a door-to-door election canvas by Mr Wells in County Down.

It is alleged that he called at the couple's house, and during a conversation was critical of their lifestyle.

He is due to step down on 11 May to spend more time with his seriously ill wife, but Sinn Féin said his resignation should take immediate effect.

Sinn Féin's Catriona Ruane expressed sympathy over his wife's illness but said he should have resigned immediately after linking child abuse to gay parents.

She Mr Wells had "violated" his pledge of office by making his original remarks.

'Lynch mob'

"No matter how much pressure someone is under there is no excuse for the comments that were made. What make the comments even worse was that they were made by the health minister who had taken a pledge of office, who is responsible for safeguarding children," she said.

Earlier, DUP leader Peter Robinson has asked people "not to take on the characteristics of a lynch mob" over the controversy surrounding Mr Wels.

"We need to be very careful on these issues that we have some proportionality," he said.

"This was a comment made by a minister who for a considerable number of months has carried on his work during the day and been sitting beside his wife during the night as she's been fighting for her life."

'Ashamed'

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kinahan told the Assembly he was supporting the Sinn Féin motion for marriage equality and was "proud" that his party had given its MLAs a free vote on the motion.

"At school and in the army I believed - and I'm ashamed to say joked carried by the flow - that gay lesbian and such matters were wrong and could be laughed at - I'd never really sat down and thought about it," Mr Kinahan said.

The UUP MLA said his eyes were opened to discrimination when one of his colleagues, who he described as an "excellent soldier" left the army after failing a vetting process for promotion.

"I want a society here in Northern Ireland where no-one is made to feel a second-class citizen to any extent and certainly not due to sexual definition. I want no discrimination whatsoever on account of religious belief or sexual orientation," Mr Kinahan said.

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle told MLAs his party "is committed to delivering a shared society for everyone based on religious and civil liberty and equality for all regardless of age, gender, disability, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation and to stand against discrimination or stigmatisation of any kind".

"The Alliance Party therefore supports the extension of state provided civil marriage to same sex couples, provided that robust legislative protection can uphold the religious freedom of faith groups to define and practice religious marriage as they determine."

SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood said: "We need to, as an assembly, as people in positions of power and responsibility, we need to be seen to be embracing all members of our community - all members of our community.

He added: "There is no reason whatsoever, Mr Speaker, why the north of Ireland should be the only place on these islands that doesn't have marriage available to same sex couples."

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