Northern Ireland news

Lyra McKee's partner Sara Canning challenged Theresa May at funeral to legalise same-sex marriage

A mural of murdered journalist Lyra McKee in Kent Street, Belfast Picture by Mal McCann.
David Young, Press Association

The partner of murdered journalist Lyra McKee has revealed she challenged British Prime Minister Theresa May to legislate for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Sara Canning said she told Theresa May at Ms McKee's funeral in Belfast to move to change the laws through Westminster if local politicians failed to act on the issue.

Ms Canning detailed the exchange as plans for a major rally in support of a law change were announced.

She will address the event outside Belfast City Hall on Saturday May 18. It is being organised by the Love Equality campaign - an umbrella group made up of organisations that support a law change.

Ms McKee was shot dead by dissident republicans as she observed rioting in Derry last month.

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Efforts to find resolution to a range of disputes preventing the restoration of devolution, including same-sex marriage, have been injected with fresh urgency following her death. A new talks process started at Stormont on Tuesday.

"Marriage equality is a cause to which Lyra and I were very committed," Ms Canning said.

"Lyra and I were supposed to be on a big trip to New York this week. We were going to get engaged.

"We talked about getting married in Donegal, but really we wanted our love and our marriage to be recognised in Northern Ireland, just the same as the rest of our family members and friends.

"But to date, politicians have stopped that happening here, despite the fact that most people support equal marriage.

"If the politicians won't legislate for equal marriage at Stormont, then the prime minister should do it at Westminster. That's what I told Theresa May at Lyra's funeral.

"I wanted her to know that Lyra and I had a right to be treated as equal citizens in our own country. Surely that's not too much to ask?

"Myself and lots of Lyra's friends and family are going to be marching for marriage equality. We hope people will join us."

Read more: Lyra McKee funeral - ‘Why in God's name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman to get us to this point?'

The ban on same-sex marriage is one of the disputes at the heart of the powersharing impasse in Belfast, with the DUP resisting Sinn Féin calls for a law change.

The socially conservative DUP is firmly opposed to any redefinition of the law, insisting marriage should be between a man and a woman.

A majority of MLAs were in favour of lifting the ban when the issue last came to the floor of the Assembly chamber, but the DUP triggered a contentious voting mechanism - the petition of concern - to block it.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International and a member of the Love Equality campaign for equal marriage, said: "It is time for political leaders in Belfast and London to respect the will of the people of Northern Ireland, which is overwhelmingly in support of marriage equality.

"This march will be a demonstration of that support, a demand which must be heard in the corridors of Stormont and Westminster.

"Marriage equality in Northern Ireland is a litmus test for whether or not any future devolved government is committed to treating all citizens equally.

"If Stormont is incapable of delivering equality for people here, then it is the responsibility of Westminster to end discrimination against the LGBT community."

Read more: Pro-IRA graffiti at Lyra McKee murder scene warns 'informers will be shot'

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

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