Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland is a step closer after a bill calling for its legalisation passed the first hurdle in the House of Commons today.
The private member’s bill was raised by Armagh-born Labour MP Conor McGinn, who later joined campaigners in delivering a petition to 10 Downing Street.
The letter had 42,000 signatories and was presented by Cara McCann and Amanda McGurk - a same-sex couple from Northern Ireland planning to marry on Valentine’s Day next year.
They hope it will be a marriage, rather than a civil partnership.
Mr McGinn, in an impassioned speech in the House of Commons, said: “The Northern Ireland Assembly being in cold storage, shouldn’t mean that Northern Ireland remains a cold house for LGBT people and their rights.
“The defacto suspension of the devolved legislature does not mean that equality for same sex couples can be suspended indefinitely - because rights delayed are rights denied.”
In 2013, Westminster MPs passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, which came into force in England and Wales in March 2014.
In Scotland, the move came later in the year, with the first same-sex weddings taking place on December 31.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom which does not have legislation for same-sex marriage, but there is widespread public support for the move.
In 2016, an Ipsos Mori poll revealed 70% of adults in Northern Ireland believe gay couples should be allowed to marry.
Speaking to the Press Association, Mr McGinn said: “I hope this is the first step on what should be a very short road towards full equality for LGBT people in Northern Ireland.”
In Northern Ireland, the DUP has repeatedly blocked legislation to recognise the marriage of same-sex couples.
With power-sharing talks between Sinn Fein and the DUP deadlocked, there has been no executive in Northern Ireland for over a year.
The civil servants who are in charge of the day-to-day running of public services, do not have the authority to pass the law.
Mr McGinn said that now is the time for the British government to intervene.
“My preference would very clearly be for the Northern Ireland assembly to legislate for this,” he said.
“But in the absence of an assembly, we have a duty here in Westminster to ensure that our fellow citizens enjoy the same rights as the rest of us.”
Ms McCann, who presented the petition to Downing Street said: “It was such a heartwarming experience. We have already won the hearts and minds of the public, now we need to win the political side.”
The St Helens North MP’s bill was approved and will have its second reading on May 11.