I'm trying to change the law to allow same-sex couples in Northern Ireland to get married. This is why ...
I’m not an expert on Northern Irish politics. In fact, until a few weeks ago I’d never been to the province.
But when I was asked a few months ago if I would sponsor a cross-party Bill in Westminster that would introduce the right for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland to get married it was a no-brainer.
As debates rage over Brexit, the border and the backstop we hear that the Government’s confidence and supply the partners, the DUP, don’t want Northern Ireland to be treated differently to the rest of the UK.
But when it comes to LGBT+ rights Northern Ireland is years behind England, Scotland, Wales and, now, the Republic of Ireland too.
Of course, people originally from Northern Ireland who now live in my Oxford West and Abingdon constituency and across Great Britain can marry the person they love here – but if that person is someone of the same sex then when they step off the plane in Belfast their marriage isn’t recognised.
When I visited Belfast recently, I met with Amnesty International NI, representatives from the LGBT branch of the cross-community Alliance Party and with campaigners from Here NI and The Rainbow Project. We discussed the campaign for love equality for people in Northern Ireland and what MPs in Westminster could and should be doing.
For me, the biggest take-away from these meetings was the intense feeling of frustration. As they see friends and family members in the Republic of Ireland and across the water getting married and being treated as equals, progress in Northern Ireland is non-existent.
One lady I spoke with told me of her plans for her civil partnership next year. But what will be an amazing celebration of their love is tinged with the knowledge that they feel they have had to accept a civil partnership instead of a marriage.
Others told me that they had reluctantly made peace with the idea that their ageing relatives would never see them get married. It is a desperately sad situation that must be resolved.
Marriage equality would send a powerful message of acceptance of the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland, and give hope that further progress can and will be achieved.
And contrary to the received wisdom in Westminster, the DUP don’t speak for everyone in Northern Ireland. Far from it. Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the Greens and growing numbers of representatives of the Ulster Unionist Party support the Love Equality campaign. Public opinion is also overwhelmingly in favour.
Barnardos and the Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner recently came out for marriage equality. A large group of multinational businesses also back reform, concerned that a lack of progress on equalities issues is putting people off coming to work for their organisations in Northern Ireland.
But with no functioning Northern Ireland Assembly to pass laws, it falls to the Westminster Parliament to act.
So what is to be done?
Well yesterday, MPs amended the Government’s Northern Ireland Bill to allow for a free vote to be held in the House of Commons on delivering same-sex marriage and on abortion reform.
Then on Friday, our snappily titled Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Bill comes back to the House of Commons.
But, due to arcane House of Commons procedures, in order for it to get through the next stage of the Parliamentary process and on its way to becoming law, it needs Government backing.
So please e-mail your MP and ask them to put pressure on the Prime Minister and the Government to stop pandering to the DUP and do the decent thing by supporting the Same Sex Marriage for Northern Ireland Bill on Friday.
Same-sex couples in Northern Ireland deserve nothing less and those of us in Great Britain shouldn’t rest until they have the same rights as everyone else across these islands.