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Marriage Equality on Its Way to Northern Ireland

 Marriage Equality on Its Way to Northern Ireland

Same-sex couples are likely to be able to begin marrying by Valentine's Day.

Northern Ireland is about to join the rest of the United Kingdom in legalizing same-sex marriage and abortion.

The change will take effect at midnight Monday, The Guardian reports, although there still needs to be one more vote before same-sex couples can begin marrying. It's happening because Northern Ireland's local government fell apart three years ago in a dispute between political parties, allowing the U.K.'s Parliament to step in and bring Northern Ireland's laws into line with those of England, Scotland, and Wales.

Parliament OK'd marriage equality and abortion rights in an amendment attached to a bill on governance of the region in July. The only thing that would have kept it from going into effect was if Northern Ireland's government was restored by today, October 21.

But a meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly -- the first in three years -- called Monday by anti-abortion groups and the conservative Democratic Unionist Party "collapsed into farce," The Guardian reports. Members of Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party refused to attend, and the assembly members who were present argued over procedural matters, such as the election of a new speaker, and left the meeting one by one. "By the time the Speaker called a vote on adjournment the chamber was empty," according to The Guardian.

There needs to be one more action by the U.K. Parliament's House of Commons before same-sex marriages can begin in Northern Ireland. But the amendment that takes effect at midnight "puts the House of Commons on track to legislate for marriage equality by January 2020, paving the way for same-sex couples to wed from 14 February -- Valentine's Day," The Guardian reports. And the abortion law requires the U.K. to put regulations providing for free, legal abortion services in place by March 31.

LGBTQ rights groups were celebrating. "Thank you to everyone who has told their stories to help us reach this milestone," Love Equality NI, a marriage equality coalition, said on Twitter. Stonewall, a leading U.K. LGBTQ rights group, called the legalization "a historic moment."

Praise came from the U.S. as well. "Today marks a historic victory for the rights of the LGBTQ community of Northern Ireland," said a statement issued by Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. "Unlike much of the United Kingdom, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland had been denied the right to marriage equality for years. The overwhelming support and tireless efforts of advocates and allies have made this day a reality. We congratulate them on this critical milestone for LGBTQ equality."

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