QUEER VOICES

Gay Marriage Is Now Legal In Northern Ireland

Britain's parliament voted last year to legalize gay marriage and abortion in the region if the province didn't reestablish its devolved government by October.

Same-sex marriage is officially legal in Northern Ireland beginning Monday, bringing the staunchly conservative province in line with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland lags behind the rest of the U.K. in legalizing same-sex marriage and abortion, with anti-gay sentiment plaguing the 45-year history of the province’s Democratic Unionist Party ― a socially conservative, majority-Protestant governing group. Northern Ireland bans abortion except for instances in which a mother’s life is at risk. 

Northern Ireland did not join England, Wales and Scotland when the British parliament in Westminster largely voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013. Stormont, the province’s seat of legislative power, voted narrowly in favor of gay marriage equality in 2015 but the DUP immediately vetoed the law change.

Northern Ireland’s unique status requires Stormont to operate on a power-sharing agreement, where parties that represent both left-wing republicans and the conservative unionists govern together. That agreement broke down in 2017 after Irish republican nationalists Sinn Fein withdrew from the deal with the DUP, leaving the province in a political deadlock for nearly three years until the DUP’s Arlene Foster was confirmed Saturday as Northern Ireland’s First Minister.

During the period of time Northern Ireland had no legislative assembly, Westminster needed to ensure the local government still ran relatively smoothly. As part of that effort, lawmakers in England voted last July in favor of a plan that would require Northern Ireland to reestablish its devolved government by Oct. 21, otherwise parliament would legalize same-sex marriage and expand abortion rights in the province.

While Northern Ireland recently reestablished its government, it missed the October deadline. Westminster’s legislation that legalized same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland started Monday.

The expansion of abortion access in Northern Ireland will begin on March 31, according to the legislation. Abortion was decriminalized in the region when Northern Ireland missed the October deadline.

The Republic of Ireland, to the south, legalized same-sex marriage in 2015 and liberalized its abortion laws in 2018. The country’s current leader is also an openly gay man.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Northern Ireland’s DUP leaders on Monday to congratulate them on the new power-sharing agreement that restored the province’s government, though it is unclear if Johnson discussed same-sex marriage legalization given the region’s history of strong opposition.