There is majority support for the legalization of both gay marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland , a new poll has found. LucidTalk regularly run polls on social attitudes in Northern Ireland, each of which has shown for years now that province’s laws on social issues lag behind public opinion.
Close to two-thirds (65%) of respondents said they supported same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland and 28% were against, the rest were undecided. Support was highest among young people and supporters of nationalist/republican political parties who supported the change at 86 and 93% respectively. However, by contrast, there was majority support for the status quo amongst supporters of unionists parties, 37% of whom supported legalization and 53% of whom opposed it.
People in the Republic of Ireland voted to legalize gay marriage in 2015 in an internationally-watched referendum and, even though the poll suggested there was strong support for Northern Ireland to follow suit, legislation on the issue has been vetoed by Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster. The province’s Assembly voted by a narrow margin of 53 votes to 51 to legalize gay marriage in November 2015 but the vote was rendered null and void after Foster’s DUP filed a “petition of concern”, in effect requiring the bill obtain a 60% “supermajority” of votes before it could pass into law.
Similarly, the poll suggests the First Minister is in a minority in her support for the current ban on abortion: 56% of people supported legislation that would bring Northern Irish law into line with the rest of the United Kingdom - where abortion is free and legal up until the 24th week of pregnancy. Eighteen percent backed abortion in the event that the mother’s life was at risk, 16% a “more restrictive version” of the UK law and 7% opposed abortion under all circumstances. The poll, however, which claims to be accurate within 5%, was panned by Bernie Smyth of Precious Life who told The Sun, “I personally do not take this poll very seriously. I could have 1,000 people respond to our petitions every couple of days. The 1967 abortion act is abortion on demand and there is not a change in this culture in Northern Ireland to support that.”
Abortion laws in the Republic of Ireland are similarly restrictive and one may only be obtained when the mother’s life is deemed to be at risk. In 1983 a referendum passed with two-thirds support added a clause to the Irish Constitution noting that, “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn.” Currently, pro-choice activists are campaigning for the clause’s removal and the current Irish Government has asked a Citizens’ Assembly to look at the issue.