Thousands march in protest at NI same-sex marriage ban

The march culminated in a rally at Belfast City Hall

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The march culminated in a rally at Belfast City Hall

Thousands of people have taken part in a protest march and rally in Belfast, calling for the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland where same-sex marriage is still banned.

The issue is one of the major stumbling blocks in the ongoing Stormont crisis.

The march set off from Writers’ Square and culminated in a rally at Belfast City Hall, addressed by Hollyoaks actress Bronagh Waugh.

To date, members of the Northern Ireland Assembly have voted five times on whether or not to introduce same-sex marriage.

On the fifth time, in November 2015, they narrowly voted in favour, with a majority of 53 votes to 52.

However, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which opposes same-sex marriage, used a Stormont veto known as a petition of concern to block the motion and prevent any change in the law.

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Some demonstrators held placards protesting about the DUP – which opposes same-sex marriage – and its recent deal with the Conservatives

Northern Ireland’s ban on same-sex marriage has been getting a lot of media attention across the UK after the DUP entered into a parliamentary deal with the Conservative Party to support Theresa May’s minority government.

The DUP has rejected accusations that it is homophobic, insisting it is instead protecting the “traditional” definition of marriage between a man and a woman.

Speaking on Friday night, DUP MLA Christopher Stalford called for the tone of the debate to improve on all sides.

“To be a supporter of traditional definition of marriage is, at times, to open yourself up to being called a religious zealot, a Bible basher, a fundamentalist, a dinosaur – all these sorts of the things,” he said.

“The language that’s been used by people who share my view, towards others who don’t, has also been inappropriate and wrong.

“I think we just, frankly, in terms of this discussion, could do with being a bit less screechy at each other.”

‘Defying reason’

However, Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International said they had “kept the tone of the campaign superbly positive”.

Amnesty is one of the leading members of the Love Equality coalition which organised the march.

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Amnesty International helped to organise the protest

“It’s about love, it’s about equality, and making very clear that this is about civil marriage equality – it’s nothing to do with what happens within the precincts of churches,” Mr Corrigan said.

“Churches are free to make their own rules, however, the state should provide equally for all members of its society.”

Coleraine-born TV actress Bronagh Waugh, star of The Fall and Hollyoaks, was the main speaker at the rally at Belfast City Hall.

“With the spotlight on Northern Ireland at the minute, now is our chance to really step up our campaigning a gear and give Northern Ireland what it so clearly wants and deserves, finally – equal marriage,” she said.

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Hollyoaks and The Fall actress Bronagh Waugh (centre in blue jacket) is hosting the rally

“It’s a very personal issue to me, my mother is gay and she’s married to a woman in England,” the actress told BBC News NI.

“Her marriage is not recognised in Northern Ireland, so she has to live in England, that’s what she chooses to do.”

In advance of the protest, a number of celebrities, including actor Liam Neeson, Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody, presenter Graham Norton and musician Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, gave their support to the campaign.

‘Defying reason’

Ballymena-born actor Liam Neeson said: “We’ve had enough of a history in our society in Northern Ireland of discrimination, mistrust and hatred.

“Yet, we’re also an open-hearted, welcoming and terrific people. Let us show that to the world by treating gay, lesbian and transgender peoples as our brothers and sisters and allowing them to marry, if they so wish.”

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Ballymena-born Liam Neeson adds his voice to calls for marriage equality in Northern Ireland

TV presenter Norton said the historic referendum that approved same-sex marriage in the Irish Republic in 2015 was a “proud gay day”.

“My own mother was from Northern Ireland, so of course I have a huge affection for the place and its people,” he said.

“I know it is hugely frustrating for gay people there that it is the last part of these islands still without marriage equality. Especially when there is such overwhelming support for it among the public.”

County Down-born singer Lightbody added: “Two years ago, I marched with 20,000 fellow Northern Ireland citizens for marriage equality. It was a beautiful day of hope, joy and solidarity and I was so proud to be from ‘Norn Iron’.

“Two years on and somehow – defying reason given it’s the will of the people – we still do not have marriage equality in Northern Ireland.”

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