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Dudgeon predicts gay marriage majority in assembly

Mike Nesbitt has said those within the UUP who oppose same sex marriage are “on the wrong side of history"

AN Ulster Unionist councillor and veteran gay rights campaigner believes a majority of MLAs will back same-sex marriage for the first time when the assembly votes on the issue.

Although the DUP has already lodged a petition of concern ensuring the motion next Monday will fail, Jeff Dudgeon believes the vote will mark a watershed for sexual equality.

The long-time UUP member has been a gay rights campaigner for decades and in the early 1980s successfully challenged the criminalisation of homosexuality through the European Court of Human Rights.

The Belfast councillor was also a member of the Ulster Unionists’ negotiating team at the Haass talks.

Responding to Mike Nesbitt’s assertion that those within the party who opposed same sex marriage were “on the wrong side of history”, Mr Dudgeon said it was clear there was “change in the air”.

The assembly has voted down same-sex marriage legislation on four previous occasions. In April this year, a Sinn Féin motion calling for civil marriage equality was defeated by with 49 votes to 47.

The north is the only region of Ireland and Britain where gay marriage remains illegal.

But Mr Dudgeon said he believed a number of his party’s MLAs who previously voted against would abstain this time around, enabling the motion to gain majority support.

Of the the 13 Ulster Unionists in the assembly in April, only Danny Kinahan voted to support same-sex marriage.

“We have to acknowledge that this is going to happen, so why be a blockage?” he told The Irish News at Saturday’s UUP conference.

Mr Dudgeon said he had never experienced any antagonism from fellow Ulster Unionists because of his sexuality.

“Northern Ireland’s a lot more liberal than meets the eye,” he said.

“It’s a bit of a misapprehension to say the Ulster Unionist Party is anti-gay – we’re further along that road than most parties.”

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