Same-sex marriage will “by hook or by crook” be legalised in Northern Ireland by 13 January 2020, even though that date is “challenging”, an NIO minister has said.
Lord Duncan told peers that the government would ensure that the change was made by that date ahead of a vote in the House of Lords which adopted that date rather than October of this year, as had been originally stipulated in the amendment passed by MPs last week.
The minister, who is himself gay, acknowledged the concerns of some peers – among whom was the DUP’s Lord Morrow – that the legislation could infringe on those with religious objections to taking part in same-sex marriages.
Lord Duncan said that Lord Morrow was right to raise the issue and pledged that the regulations which the NIO will bring forward to change the law will ensure that no one “will be compelled to act against their faith, their religion or even against their opinion”.
Lord Duncan quoted from both 1st Corinthians, on the nature of love, and from Sara Canning, partner of the murdered journalist Lyra McKee, when she told the Prime Minister “surely we had the right to be treated as equal citizens in our own country — surely that’s not too much to ask?”
Labour’s Baroness Smith said it was the job of the Lords to “tidy up” what she described as the “technical deficiencies” in the Commons’ amendments, including the need to protect those with religious views.
Lord Duncan gave the government’s support to an amendment from Conservative peer Lord Hayward, which delayed the introduction of same-sex marriage and added significant detail to the sparse amendment of Labour MP Conor McGinn which was passed by MPs last week.
Former Tory cabinet minister Lord Tebbit described the entire bill as a “dog’s dinner which no reasonable dog would look at”. Lord Cormack, the former chair of the Commons’ Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said it was “a disgrace that we have this steamroller legislation going through the house”. He likened the bill to the poll tax, which had been “appalling”, but said “this is even worse”.