A majority of MLAs could on Monday – for the first time – back a motion supporting the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, one of the motion’s proposers has said.
Claire Hanna believes a sufficient number of Assembly members who previously opposed such a move have had a change of heart.
The vote will be an unprecedented fifth time the same motion has been introduced during a single Assembly term – having last been rejected just six months ago.
The SDLP MLA said she was hopeful of a majority in favour following Monday’s debate, but that it was likely that a court action would eventually be necessary if the DUP did not lift the petition of concern which negates the outcome of the vote.
“I don’t think it is a legitimate use of a petition of concern,” Ms Hanna said.
“Last time it lost by only two votes, and I have spoken to more than two members who have changed their minds.
“I think the important thing is the message it would send to young gay people in particular about acceptance and their future and role in society. It will be a good thing if it gets a majority,” the South Belfast representative added.
The joint SDLP and Sinn Fein motion states: “That this Assembly calls on the Executive to table legislation to allow for same-sex marriage.”
Last week, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt indicated that he will not vote for gay marriage – despite saying that such a stance puts him “on the wrong side of history”.
However, he did not rule out voting for the motion, suggesting that he could abstain.
“I cannot imagine me voting in the aye lobby the next time it is debated,” he said.
Independent South Down MLA John McCallister, one of the few unionists who supports same-sex marriage, said that although he would be voting for the motion he believed locally drafted legislation in the form of a private member’s bill was the way forward.
Meanwhile, two same-sex couples have pledged to invite Assembly members to their weddings, if they vote to legalise them.
Couples Jayne Robinson and Laura McKee and Michael McCartan and Malachai O’Hara plan to attend Monday’s debate at Stormont dressed in wedding regalia.
Ms Robinson said: “Just like most other couples in a long-term, committed relationship, we want to get married. At the moment our politicians are stopping us.
“If the politicians pass a marriage equality law for Northern Ireland, we’ll invite them to our wedding.”
Mr O’Hara said: “When the law changes – and it will sooner or later – Michael and I will get married and all the politicians who vote to make it happen will be welcome at the ceremony.”