Second bid to let Westminster bypass Stormont on same-sex marriage

Jeff Dudgeon has been working on the proposal since last year
Jeff Dudgeon has been working on the proposal since last year

A second Westminster attempt to legislate for gay marriage in Northern Ireland is under way, it has emerged.

Supporters of bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK and Ireland have put pressure on MPs to go over Stormont’s head and change the law.

Last week it emerged that Northern Ireland-born Labour MP Conor McGinn is to next month bring a “10-minute rule bill” to the Commons to “test the mood” of the Commons on using Parliamentary sovereignty to overcome the DUP’s long-standing Stormont veto on allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Mr McGinn’s proposal would not actually change the law. However, it has emerged that Jeff Dudgeon, the man whose 1981 European Court of Human Rights case led to homosexuality being decriminalised in Northern Ireland, has for months been working on a separate bid to get Westminster to change the law.

Mr Dudgeon, who is now an Ulster Unionist councillor in Belfast, has been working with Professor Paul Johnson, an academic from the University of York, and several peers on legislation which would adopt a different approach to that of Mr McGinn’s more straightforward attempt to legalise same-sex marriage in the Province.

The alternative legislation – which would require an MP to table it in the Commons – would ‘un-devolve’ the power, formally removing it from range of areas in which Stormont is permitted to legislate, and would then give the secretary of state 12 months in which to pass secondary legislation allowing for same-sex marriage.

Mr Dudgeon told the News Letter that in the absence of Stormont he believed it was “appropriate” for Westminster to step in on the matter.

He added: “I suspect that some in the DUP would be pleased if the matter could be dealt with at Westminster, taking it off their Assembly agenda. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t vote against it at Westminster.”

The development emerges as a DUP MLA has spoken out to go further than any of her colleagues in putting distance between herself and the party’s policy of opposition to changing the law.

South Antrim MLA Pam Cameron told the Belfast Telegraph that she did not have an issue with the proposal.

She said: “Personally, I don’t have an issue with gay marriage but I represent a party that does and I respect that and more importantly, the voters ... we’re not afforded a free vote on conscience issues in our party, but I absolutely believe in party strength and I’m prepared to go with the majority.”

There have been other public hints that not every DUP legislator agrees with the party’s stance. Last year, fellow DUP MLA Paula Bradley said that she expected to say same-sex marriage would be legalised in Northern Ireland “in the next decade”.