The Westminster equalities Minister, Maria Miller, has today announced that the first same-sex marriage in England and Wales will be able to take place on 29th March.
While this is a welcome step it is also going to be a sad day for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. While our brothers and sisters in England and Wales will be able to benefit from this march towards equality here we will not benefit. Firstly and most obviously the DUP have lead the campaign to oppose any introduction of marriage equality here and have threatened that even if a majority of MLAs were to vote in favour that they would introduce a petition of concern which they alone would block on a whipped vote. It is to be noted that in Westminster and Holyrood that all the votes there of the major parties have been a free vote.
Of course the other way in which Northern Ireland’s LGBT community will become less equal after 29th March is that even if a same-sex couple were to be married elsewhere in the UK, should they move to Northern Ireland after the ceremony their marriage would not be recognised as a marriage but only as a civil partnership, even if that marriage were to be carried out by a faith group and therefore not a secular act.
The Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland will continue to work with out colleagues in the Alliance Party, Greens, SDLP, Sinn Féin, NI21 and others who are still working on getting marriage equality into law here in Northern Ireland. We know we have a long march ahead of us yet, but then on issues of LGBT equality that is something that we as a community are too used to.