Stormont to debate gay marriage for a fifth time in five years

The Assembly has voted against same-sex marriage four times since 2011
The Assembly has voted against same-sex marriage four times since 2011

Nationalists are bringing the issue of gay marriage back before Stormont for an unprecedented fifth time in one Assembly mandate, despite the issue having been again rejected just six months ago.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have joined forces to table a motion which states: “That this Assembly calls on the Executive to table legislation to allow for same-sex marriage.”

The motion, which will be debated on November 2, is in the names of SDLP MLAs Alex Attwood, Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna, as well as Sinn Fein MLAs Caitriona Ruane and Daithi McKay.

The Assembly has voted against gay marriage four times since the last Assembly election in 2011.

If the DUP has not ended its semi-boycott of Assembly proceedings by November 2, the motion is certain to see a strong turnout from DUP MLAs and, based on past such motions, the party is likely to table a petition of concern to effectively veto the motion.

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 that the MLAs behind the bill should move beyond constantly tabling motions – which, even if passed will not change the law – to bringing forward legislation.

He said: “I would like to see someone go and get a private member’s bill on it if they feel so strongly and start a genuine process of attempting to change the law.

“Bringing legislation would certainly be more satisfactory – and would allow for protections for churches, for example, to be built into it – than doing this through the courts.”

Mr McCallister said that he believed that some of the motions had been brought “just to embarrass other parties who have a certain stance but are not able to make all their members adhere to that stance – it’s been used more to embarrass others than to advance the cause of equal civil marriage”.

A DUP spokesman said: “There should be a thousand and one other things more important than this. The Assembly has spoken on this issue on four previous occasions.

“People say they are happy to live by the view of the Assembly, but they repeatedly bring it back time and time again.

“This is not the best use of the Assembly’s time.”