Thursday 16 February 2012

Equal Marriage marching on except in Northern Ireland

Cross posted on LGBT+ Lib Dems Northern Ireland

Liberal Democrats at Edinburgh's Equal Marriage March
Picture copyright Liberal Youth Scotland
On Valentine's Day my Lib Dem colleagues in Scotland joined others for a march to Holyrood in support of equal marriage. As you may be aware there has been a consultation process there into the subject and the Government are now considering those submissions. There will also be a consultation by Westminster covering England and Wales.

However, the week before in the Northern Ireland Assembly the subject of the Sexual Orientation Strategy once again emerged from the long grass it has spent most of a decade in to feature at the top of First Minister's Questions. With the Junior Minister saying that OFMDFM do intend to publish this strategy and the revised Cohesion Sharing and Integration programme this year it fell on my Green Party MLA Steven Agnew to ask about one specific:

Mr Agnew: Will there be any mention of gay marriage (Editor's note: I will be sending a note off to my MLA to correct his language on this) in the sexual orientation strategy? Has any progress been made on providing full equal rights to gay couples?
Mr Bell (Junior Minister, Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister): Questions on those matters are the subject of much discussion and have been the subject of much discussion in the media over recent weeks. The issue is not under active consideration.

Now just what did the Junior Minister mean by that?

Is it simply that there is no active consideration of extending equal marriage legislation to Northern Ireland, even if the rest of the UK does. Seeing as we still lag behind on adoption for gay parents and blood donation, this would not be out of character for the Norther Ireland Assembly.

However, more problematic is what if the rest of the UK do accept equal marriage, what consideration then is there to recognise those couples so married should they choose to reside in Northern Ireland? Will their marriages valid and recognised in the majority of the UK not be recognised in Northern Ireland. If they are not civil partnered but married be offered protections under the law of a region that is only recognising marriage as between people of opposite gender and civil partnerships as between those of the same gender.

There could be knock on effects if Northern Ireland doesn't recognise equal marriages from the rest of the UK or indeed the world within its Sexual Orientation Strategy. There will be concerns as far as benefits go, health provision, wording and filling in of forms in all manner of ways.

The fact that there is no active consideration of the complications that carrying on a different approach to the rest of the UK again means that Northern Ireland will be reactionary in its response to this issue and is failing to be proactive in thinking there will be consequences. Not everyone born in Northern Ireland stays here, a lot of us do go elsewhere to study/work. Many of us fall in love with people from other parts of the UK, some of us may even bring that partner to live with us here in Northern Ireland.

So if an LGBT couple fall into that last category having been married elsewhere what position does that leave them in under Northern Irish legislation?

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