The Northern Ireland Assembly rejected the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland for the third time in the past eighteen months, voting 51-43 against the proposal. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) introduced and backed the motion but it was blocked by Democratic Unionists, which holds the most seats in the house.
When proposing the motion, Sinn Fein, a member of the legislative assembly, said that the SDLP advocates for right to social, economic, gender and cultural equality. The motion also supported freedom of religion by allowing religious institutions to define, observe and practice marriage according to their beliefs. This would have granted them the freedom to either conduct same-sex marriages or not.
In Northern Ireland, with a greater proportion of Catholic worshipers, the Church has been a key opponent to same-sex marriage, arguing that any change to the nature of marriage would endanger the family. The Church also holds that same-sex unions are an unfavorable environment for children and that the legalization of such unions damages society.
Before the vote, Catholic hierarchy wrote an open letter to every assembly member urging them to reject the motion, restating the Church of Ireland’s position on same-sex marriage. The letter said in part, "… that marriage is in its purpose a union of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side. The Church of Ireland recognizes for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage."
The motion had proposed that the assembly introduce legislation similar to other jurisdictions in Britain and Ireland, noting that Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that has not passed same-sex marriage law.
England and Wales legalized same-sex marriage in July last year, followed by Scotland early this year. The first same-sex marriages took place in England and Wales last month while Scotland is due to follow in October.
HRC is working to build a diverse faith-based movement speaking out for LGBT justice and broadening awareness of the global equality movement. To learn more, visit our Religion and Faith section.