Campaigners toast landmark milestone in bid to secure same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage campaigners have toasted a landmark milestone in their efforts to secure a law change in Northern Ireland.

Activists gathered on Tuesday to watch proceedings at Westminster, as MPs voted overwhelmingly to introduce gay marriage if the Assembly is not restored by the autumn.

Amid the celebrations, there was also a note of poignancy, as friends of murdered journalist Lyra McKee reflected on what the moment would have meant to the vocal LGBT advocate.

Members of the LGBT community in Belfast
Members of the LGBT community in Belfast

Cara McCann and her civil partner Amanda McGurk, who had a front-row seat as the debate was shown on a big screen at the Rainbow Project LGBT advocacy organisation in Belfast, hope to be one of the first same-sex couples to get married in Northern Ireland.

“I’m absolutely overjoyed,” said Ms McCann.

“This is the closest we have ever come to achieving marriage equality in the north of Ireland – it’s a good day for equality.”

Ms McCann, the director of HereNI, a group that supports lesbians and bisexual women, added: “Our community has suffered because of these inequalities, and hopefully we will be on an equal footing on this issue to our peers and our family and friends.

“It’s equality for us, but also for our children as well, this impacts on our kids as well, so they will be treated as equals in the near future too.”

UK gay marriage
UK gay marriage

Ms McGurk, a gender violence worker for Cara-Friend youth organisation, described the vote as a “fantastic result”.

“We think we’ll be going for an upgrade from our civil partnership,” she said.

“We may be at City Hall in our wedding dresses in the next few months, but time will tell.”

As events in the House of Commons drew to a close, campaigners headed for city centre bars to continue the celebrations.

John O’Doherty, who toasted the occasion with his husband Martin Toland, said: “It’s an absolutely historic day and so pleased to see this substantial move towards achieving equal marriage for the people of Northern Ireland.

“It’s been eight years since this campaign started, it’s been five years since the introduction in England and Wales – LGBT people in Northern Ireland have waited long enough.

“We have another three months to wait, assuming the Assembly doesn’t get up and running, but this is the most excited we have been and the most positive outlook we have had for this campaign.”

One of those who has been a prominent supporter of same-sex marriage in the region is Sara Canning, the partner of Lyra McKee, who was shot dead by dissident republicans in Londonderry in April.

A mural of the tragic reporter is painted on a wall close to bars where celebrations were taking place on Tuesday.

Fergal McFerran, who knew Ms McKee, said: “It is incredibly poignant that today is a day that I’m sure Lyra and her partner Sara would have been looking forward to and it’s incredibly sad that she’s not here to see the progress that has been made, but I think the LGBT community as a whole take inspiration from her every day.”

He said the vote had made for a “fantastic day”.

“It is a huge celebration for the LGBT community but also for Northern Ireland as a whole,” he said.

“Time and time again it has been shown that people in the majority support the introduction of marriage equality in Northern Ireland.

“Today Westminster has rightly intervened to ensure that will be the case in three months time if the Assembly isn’t back up and running.”

Alexa Moore, director of Transgender NI, described the vote as “monumental”.

“It’s absolutely fantastic that equal marriage has essentially been legalised in Northern Ireland,” she said.

“It is unfortunate that it had to go through Westminster and didn’t come through our own Assembly, but unfortunately that is the way it went.

“There is still a lot of work to be done and we in the LGBT sector acknowledge that and we are looking forward to fighting the next fight.”