Northern Ireland

Peers back revised changes to ensure same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

The introduction of same-sex marriage in the north has moved a step closer
The introduction of same-sex marriage in the north has moved a step closer

REVISED proposals have been agreed to ensure that MP-backed moves to allow same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland can be introduced.

Peers heard the aim of the amendments was to "improve and extend the drafting" of the changes to legislation overwhelming approved by the Commons, which had "technical problems".

However, it means same-sex marriage will not come into force until the new year, to allow for the necessary changes to be introduced.

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill seeks to again push back reintroducing a law placing a legal duty on Secretary of State Karen Bradley to call a fresh assembly election.

This was designed to give the Stormont parties more time to resolve the long-running deadlock and restore the powersharing executive, two-and-a-half years after it collapsed.

However, during consideration in the Commons, MPs agreed a series of changes to the legislation, including liberalising access to abortion as well as same-sex marriage.

Introducing the revised amendment yesterday evening, Tory peer Lord Hayward said: "This will enable the Secretary of State to deliver a comprehensive and effective regime of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland."

The original Commons amendment tabled by Labour's Conor McGinn was to legalise same-sex marriage if a new Stormont executive is not formed by October.

However, under Lord Hayward's amendment the relevant regulations would not come into force until January 13, 2020.

He said: "Pushing back the commencement date for these regulations will allow the Government and the Northern Ireland civil service more time to make the necessary changes to legislation as well mas the essential operational changes."

Lord Hayward also said the amendment contained a measure to protect religious organisations and their representatives from legal challenge if they do not wish to marry same sex couples.

However, the DUP took issue with the wording of the legislation around religious safeguards, with the Bill stating the Secretary of State "may" make regulations when it came to protections.

Pressing for the wording to be strengthened around religious protections, DUP peer Lord Morrow said a change he proposed "would make it mandatory rather than discretionary for the Government to use their order making power to protect religious liberty".