MEMBERS of the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday voted narrowly in favour of legislating for same-sex marriage in the province, but were stymied by a DUP-sponsored “Petition of Concern”, which prevented the measure, although 53 MLAs supported the motion, against 51 who rejected it.
A Petition is a special mechanism that can block legislation unless a majority of both unionists and nationalists agree.
It was the fifth time that gay-marriage proposals have come before Stormont and, after the signing into law last week in the Republic of legislation to permit same-sex marriage, Northern Ireland is now the only entity in Britain or Ireland to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples.
The Roman Catholic Church found itself in the unusual position of having something in common with the DUP when, before the vote, the RC Bishops said in an open letter to the Assembly: “In the context of the forthcoming Assembly debate, we wish to express our particular concern that the motion presented provides no detail whatsoever of the scale or scope of the legislation being proposed.
“It is also completely silent on the vital issue of respect for individual religious conscience and protections for Churches and other religious groups. Those who vote in favour of this motion have no way of knowing what the full consequences of such a vote will be. What will be the impact for services provided by Churches and other faith groups that offer vital support to marriages and families in all kinds of distress and thereby contribute to the well-being of children and society?
“The failure of legislators to provide any form of protection for Catholic Church-related adoption agencies that have had to close in recent years is a stark warning to all who value the wide range of social and pastoral services that Churches provide.”
The Bishops urged Assembly members to keep to the forefront the rights and welfare of children in their voting decision. Amnesty International is now preparing to bring the issue to the courts.