Northern Ireland Minister: no movement on marriage

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chloe Smith MP, has confirmed that there is no likely reform of marriage law in Northern Ireland for the forseeable future.

In a debate opened by Rutherglen MP Ged Killen (Co-Operative Party), Chloe explained:

“My position on this issue is clear: I voted in support of same-sex marriage in England and Wales and, like the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, I hope that this can be extended to Northern Ireland in future. I believe marriage should be a common right across the UK. However, the fundamental position remains that same-sex marriage is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland.”

Ged pressed her:

“If my husband and I stick to our plans to retire one day to his home town in Northern Ireland, upon my death, my better half would lose a husband in every sense of the word. The registry confirms that no reference to the marriage will be included on any certificate issued and my husband would be recorded simply as a surviving civil partner—years of marriage wiped out by the stroke of a pen. Does the Minister agree that, if the Democratic Unionist party is so keen on having no regulatory divergence from the UK, this is a good place to start?”

The Independent MP for North Down, Lady Hermon, interjected:

“I would welcome assurances from the Minister that she and the Secretary of State have already met the leaders of the four main Churches in Northern Ireland to discuss the sensitive issue of the recognition of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. That assurance would be very helpful.”

Chloe Smith confirmed that her department is in regular contact with Church leaders. She then passed the buck once more, explaining, “it is an important issue, but it really is an issue for a future devolved Government to look at.”

The Stormont government has been absent from its job since March 2017 when a snap Northern Irish election – in which the DUP were the main losers but which left the Assembly much more sharply divided between the DUP and Sinn Fein – was followed by a failiure to form a government.  Nearly a year on the MLAs are still yet to find a workable compromise and so marriage law reform is one of many devolved issues that are stalled.

It is likely that same-sex marriage – which the Northern Ireland Assembly has voted in favour of allowing but the vote was followed by a blocking move on the part of the DUP – will not be forced into law by the current UK government because of the Conservative Party’s dependence on the DUP for its working majority.