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Northern Ireland Just Took a Major Step Toward Passing Same-Sex Marriage

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland was introduced to the United Kingdom’s House of Lords Tuesday, and could now move to the House of Commons. 

While the move brings the small country closer to passing same sex marriage, significant challenges remain — including the fact that Northern Ireland is currently without a government, which collapsed last January, The Journal, an Irish news site, reports

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has not recognized same-sex marriage — even though it was the first to recognize domestic partnerships in 2005

Neighboring Ireland recognized same-sex marriage through a referendum vote in 2015, Scotland did so in 2014, and the UK and Wales did so in 2013, according to BBC

Take Action: Call on the Commonwealth to Tackle Gender Inequality, Poverty and Disease

The new bill was introduced to the House of Lords by Lord Robert Hayward and will also be introduced to the House of Commons by Member of Parliament Conor McGinn on Wednesday, according to reports.

“[E]quality is not something you can pick and choose on around the United Kingdom,” Hayward told the BBC. "It should apply to all parts of the UK."

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He added that the introduction of the bill was met by an “audible ‘hear, hear’ from all sides of the chamber.” 

On Tuesday, McGinn penned an op-ed in The Guardian calling on the UK to pass a bill guaranteeing same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, saying: “Same-sex couples should not have to wait any more for this long overdue change and to enjoy the same rights as my constituents in St. Helens, or people in Dublin, London, Cardiff or Edinburgh.”

Read More: Australia’s Senate Just Passed Same-Sex Marriage Bill in Huge Step Toward LGBTQ Equality

Part of the challenge any same-sex marriage bill faces in Northern Ireland is opposition from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). 

In 2015, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a bill by one vote that would have legalized same-sex marriage, but it was blocked by the DUP, which filed a “petition of concern” that said the bill violated minority rights.  

Now, however, the Assembly is stalled because the DUP and opposition party Sinn Fein failed to reach a power-sharing agreement — which gives the UK government the ability to pass laws in Northern Ireland if it can muster cross-party support. 

Hayward said Tuesday he hoped the UK would “in one form or another... get this into law.” 

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Same-sex marriage has public backing in Northern Ireland, with more than two-thirds of people saying they support it in a 2015 poll

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