In a statement released exclusively to Attitude
, Sir Ian McKellen has expressed his concern that Northern Ireland is being left behind on matters of equality, ahead of today's vote on same sex marriage.
Writing today, Sir Ian has said:
As a gay Englishman, whose ancestors hail from County Antrim, I am concerned that the Northern Ireland Assembly should establish full legal equality for LGBT residents in Northern Ireland.
Northern Irish people should not be the victims at home of specious arguments in favour of inequality. They should not have to travel to Britain nor to the Republic, to be treated equally.
Just as coming out as a gay person, changes one’s life entirely for the better, coming out as a country, in favour of equality, will bring credit to the entire citizenry, regardless of their sexuality or gender.
I hope the vote will give us all a chance to celebrate the unity of civil rights already enjoyed by LGBT people in adjacent countries.
With best wishes
Also writing today, in a blog for the Labour Party's Irish Society, Lord Michael Cashman has said. "It's time to proudly state that civil marriage should be open to all citizens, whether lesbian, gay or straight, and that it is a modern power house into which companies and individuals can invest and relocate without hesitation."
He adds, "It is worth restating the polls show clear majority support among both men and women, from both Catholic and Protestant community backgrounds and across all urban and rural areas. Yet the battle for equality needs to be lead independently of public opinion, because it is the right, just and decent thing to do. The courage to lead, in the sure and certain knowledge that everyone’s lives will be made better."
Today is the fifth time politicians in Northern Ireland will have debated and voted on same sex marriage, and while it stands a high chance of being passed for the first time, the ruling DUP have committed to using a vote of concern to block it.
Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan says he hopes MLAs will support the proposed change, but has expressed disappointment with the DUP's stance. "The misuse of the petition of concern to hold back rather than uphold the rights of a minority group, will mean that the motion is formally defeated. It is a tragedy that same-sex couples are forced to ask the courts to fulfil a responsibility which has been abdicated for too long by too many politicians."
Two court cases, to be carried out before the end of the year, will challenge the legality of the ban on same sex marriage in Northern Ireland; a right which is now available in the rest of the United Kingdom, as well as in the Republic of Ireland.
Both Ian McKellen and Michael Cashman are long standing champions for gay rights in the United Kingdom, and were co-founders of the Stonewall charity.