Gay marriage has been defeated in Northern Ireland following a block vote of major Unionist parties against it.

Sinn Fein introduced the bill in the Northern Irish Assembly and had the backing of the SDLP the other main nationalist party, the Alliance Party, and the Green Party. Three independent unionists also voted for it.

However the combined unionist vote of the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist party defeated the bill by 50 to 45.

Pro-gay marriage advocates now expect a court challenge against the ban in both Britain and at the European Court on the grounds that it is allowed elsewhere in the United Kingdom, reports the Guardian.

Amnesty International stated the prospects of a gay couple taking a legal case to the European Court of Human Rights is now a distinct possibility.

Sinn Féin
Assembly member for South Down Caitriona Ruane stated: "Attitudes in Ireland are changing because people do not want to see people discriminated against.

"The gay community has said enough is enough. They are standing up for themselves and their communities."

She claimed young gay people were turning to suicide because of rampant discrimination and bullying. "If they don't have an alternative voice to the vitriolic gay-bashing they will internalise it," she said.

All the main churches, Protestant and Catholic, opposed the bill. But the gay Christian lobby group “Changing Attitudes Ireland” condemned the unionist veto.

Church of Ireland minister Canon Charles Kenny, the secretary of Changing Attitudes Ireland, stated: "The year is drawing nearer when the love and justice expressed in the gospels will win out and sweep away the faith-based prejudice against gay and lesbian couples."

Democratic Unionist finance minister Sammy Wilson said the unionist parties would always vote to defeat "reckless" legislation.

Pro gay marriage and Amnesty International protesters picket Stormont, home of the Northern Ireland