Same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland tonight at midnight despite a last-ditch attempt from the DUP
Abortion and same-sex marriage are set to become legal in Northern Ireland at midnight tonight after Stormont hosted its first sitting in nearly three years.
Conservative MPs, in opposition to the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, recalled the Assembly for the first time in more than two years today. The meeting, however, was short as it was boycotted by some political parties who slammed the proceedings as a "circus."
Without cross-party cooperation, a new Speaker of the Assembly could not be elected meaning no new business could proceed. As such, the legislation voted upon by British MPs this past summer will become finalized at midnight tonight.
The matters of same-sex marriage and abortion had previously been deemed to be a “devolved matter” in British Parliament, meaning it should be left up to Northern Ireland’s Assembly to decide. However, with no Assembly in place for more than two years, backbench members of the British Labour party argued that the two issues can no longer be ignored.
In July, the UK’s House of Commons voted 383 votes to 73 votes in favor of marriage equality, and 332 votes to 99 votes in favor of abortion rights.
Labour MP Conor McGinn, a native of Co Armagh who now represents St. Helen’s North in British Parliament, introduced the same-sex marriage bill, and MP Stella Creasy, also a member of the Labour party, introduced the abortion bill.
Both amendments were introduced with the caveat that they will be implemented only if Northern Ireland still doesn’t have an operational government by October 21. Ever since the power-sharing between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein collapsed in early 2017, the region has been without a functioning government.
DUP's "last-ditch attempt"
On October 21, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who has traditionally been against abortion and same-sex marriage, introduced a “last-ditch attempt” to push through legislation that would prevent the legalization of abortion in Northern Ireland.
Mark Devenport, BBC Northern Ireland’s political editor, shared a picture of the DUP’s ‘Defence of the Unborn Child Bill 2019:’
Here’s the text of the bill which never made it on to today’s Stormont Order paper pic.twitter.com/qKRI1gZCve— Mark Devenport (@markdevenport) October 21, 2019
The progress of the bill was thwarted, however, when Assembly procedure dictated that a new Speaker must be elected in order to proceed with business.
Having branded the day's proceedings as a "political stunt," political parties Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party refused to attend the sitting of the Assembly, essentially preventing the necessary cross-party coordination in naming a new Speaker.
The Belfast Telegraph reports: “The meeting lasted just 51 minutes as DUP MLAs argued with Speaker Robin Newton over Assembly procedure.
“An attempt by DUP MLAs to push through a Defence of the Unborn Child bill was blocked by the Speaker who said that legal advice told him Assembly business could not proceed without the election of a new Speaker and deputies on a cross-community basis.”
As such, the legislation voted upon in Westminster in July will proceed tonight at midnight.
All ongoing investigations into women who have sought abortion in Northern Ireland are to be dropped on Tuesday. Full abortion services are expected to be in place in Northern Ireland by March 31. Until then, all health professionals will be required to provide information about state-funded services to women who are seeking information about abortions.
Same-sex marriage will come into effect in Northern Ireland from January, with the first weddings to happen the following month as all engaged couples must give 28 days' notice of their wedding.