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The UK Votes to Extend Same-Sex Marriage to Northern Ireland

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Northern Ireland just took a huge step toward establishing equality for all by voting in favor of same-sex marriage and access to reproductive care and family planning. The move is an important one that advances both LGBTQ rights and gender equality. You can take action to support these issues and help tackle discrimination here.

In a landslide vote, members of UK parliament supported the extension of equal marriage to Northern Ireland on Tuesday. In the same session, lawmakers also voted 332 to 99 in favor of decriminalizing abortion.

The historic votes represent major gains in LGBTQ rights and gender equality in Northern Ireland, and would realign Northern Ireland’s policies on these issues with the rest of the UK.

But, despite overwhelming support for the measures, their implementation is not guaranteed.

Northern Ireland — unlike the Republic of Ireland, which is a sovereign country — is a jurisdiction of the UK, but was largely self-governed for many years. In 2017, its government collapsed due to disagreements between political parties, and has not been reinstated since.

If Northern Ireland does not form a new “devolved government,” as its governing body is called, by Oct. 21, then the UK government will move forward with legislation to implement the amendments, the BBC reported. However, the legislation would also include provisions allowing a future government to amend or overturn the laws.

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK to still have such a law on the books.

“Having been let down so many times before, LGBT people in Northern Ireland can now look forward to enjoying the same right as everyone else in the rest of the UK and on the island of Ireland,” Labour MP Conor McGinn, who led the charge to bring equal marriage to Northern Ireland, said in a statement on Twitter after the vote.

McGinn said that he hopes to see Northern Ireland’s government restored, so that it can take the legislation forward.

“But if Stormont still isn’t functioning by then, the LGBT community in Northern Ireland will know that Westminster will act to ensure equality and respect for all citizens, and finally give them the right to marry the person they love,” he added.

And LGBTQ advocates who championed marriage equality in Northern Ireland are celebrating.

“This is an incredible moment and a huge cause for celebration. Marriage equality in Northern Ireland is finally a reality," Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Director, said in a statement.

"So many people have been campaigning for this for so long. At points it seemed unachievable, but we never gave up. Today’s a day for the history books," Corrigan, who is part of the Love Equality coalition, which called for the legalization of same-sex marriage, continued.

Read More: Ireland Under Pressure to Introduce Hate Crime Laws After LGBTQ Attacks

Activists have also long campaigned for changes to the country's sexual and reproductive health laws, which prevent girls and women from being able to plan their families, to make health choices over their own bodies, and, ultimately, to realize their full potential. Such policies, which restrict access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, disproportionately impact girls and women living in poverty, and can contribute to worse education and health outcomes, according to the UN Population Fund.

Currently, abortion is only legal in Northern Ireland when a mother’s life is in danger, or when there is a risk of serious, permanent damage to a mother’s mental or physical health. Women cannot access this form of reproductive medical service and exercise this reproductive right in cases of rape, incest, or fetal anomalies — and can face life imprisonment for doing so. But the newly passed amendmet could change this within three months.

Whether or not these amendments will become effective law remains to be seen, but many are celebrating the strong showing of support for the measures as historic wins on social media.