The Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected a third attempt to introduce same-sex marriage in the province, which would bring it in line with the rest of the UK.
The motion was tabled by Republican party Sinn Fein because "other jurisdictions on these islands have moved forward with equal marriage rights for same-sex couples".
Despite opposition from both Catholic and Protestant churches, the motion received support from across the community
, with 'yes' votes from the majority of the Catholic SDLP and the Protestant UUP - as well as the mixed Alliance Party, Green Party and newly-formed NI21.
However, the Democratic Unionist Party - who hold a slight majority, and are strongly opposed to the measure - voted the bill down by 51 votes to 43. This is the third time in 18 months that the opposition of this party has prevented the measure from passing.
The DUP are rooted in the Free Presbyterian Church, and oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, calling it "a perversion of marriage". They opposed the legalisation of homosexuality when it finally came to Northern Ireland in 1982, and were against civil partnerships when they were introduced in 2005.
Yesterday (April 29) their member Meryn Storey led the 'no' debate, saying it was "unfortunate" that this issue was once again wasting the time of the Assembly, that marriage had been between a man and a woman "since the dawn of creation", and that it was "not a matter of equality".
He and his colleagues also fell back on arguments that the legislation would lead to incest and polygamy being grounds for marriage, and insisted they should not be labelled homophobic for taking this stance.
It is widely believed that the only immediate path for the gay community to achieve marriage equality in Northern Ireland is through a legal challenge.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland Programme Director, released a statement
saying that the politicians who continued to block marriage rights for same-sex couples "are like latter-day King Canutes, trying in vain to hold back the tide of equality", and that legal challenges from same-sex couples will leave it up to judges to "do the right thing".
A current poll hosted by the Belfast Telegraph
shows a 73% level of support for marriage equality. The Republic of Ireland will hold a referendum on same-sex marriage in 2015, in which all major parties will campaign for a yes vote. Current opinion polls
show nearly 76% of people in the Irish Republic support marriage equality.