Legislation allowing same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland and liberalising abortion laws has passed through its final stage in the British parliament, over the head of the North’s collapsed Stormont assembly.
It was confirmed yesterday that the legislation will become law by October 21st unless Sinn Féin and the DUP can restore their power-sharing agreement by then, putting an end date in sight for an issue that students on both sides of the border have long campaigned on.
The changes to the law will mean same-sex couples no longer have to enter into civil partnerships, while abortions will be decriminalised and women currently awaiting criminal trial will have their prosecutions dropped by October 22nd.
Same-sex marriage and abortion legislation have become controversial topics in Northern Ireland in recent years, with the DUP – which is currently propping up the UK’s Conservative government – consistently opposing attempts to liberalise laws on both issues.
In a press statement yesterday, Robert Murtagh, the President of the National Union of Students–Union of Students in Ireland (NUS-USI), Northern Ireland’s students’ union, said: “We need a devolved, working Government in Northern Ireland.”
“Equally”, he said, “we need marriage equality and free, safe and legal abortion services. We want both as a matter of urgency. It’s what the students and young people here deserve”.
In an email statement to The University Times today, Laura Beston, the President of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), said: “For far too long have the human rights of those living in Northern Ireland been ignored and last night marked a positive step in reconciling this.”
She said that “it is important to remember the people who have fought so tirelessly for this to become a reality, particularly the students who have campaigned for equality today and in the many years gone by”.
“Pressure must be put on the government”, she added, “to put an end to the discrimination of those who are affected under the current laws regards marriage equality and abortion”.
In a press statement, Lorna Cahill, the President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), said: “We cautiously welcome the news that MP’s have voted to legislate marriage equality and decriminalize abortion services in Northern Ireland.”
It is, however, conditional”, she said. “Students deserve the right to marriage equality, bodily autonomy and a working government all at once. The fight is not over, not until we have all three.”
Last week, The University Times reported that TCDSU will this year send a delegation to Belfast Pride, which takes place on August 3rd.
In January 2019, an open letter signed by high-profile activists and human-rights campaigners – including Shakira Martin, the President of the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS) – demanded Westminster’s intervention in Northern Ireland to legislate for marriage equality.
Students have also been at the core of protest action in the North: in October 2017, they were at the centre of a march that brought 2,500 to the streets of Belfast demanding abortion reform. USI has often joined NUS-USI in calling for a liberalisation of a set of laws that are among the tightest in western Europe.