The Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected a motion calling for the introduction of same-sex marriage legislation by 51 votes to 43.
No nationalist MLAs voted against the Sinn Fein motion, although six SDLP members abstained including two, Pat Ramsey and Karen McKevitt, who had previously voted for the proposal despite party policy being in favour of same-sex marriage. Opposition from the overwhelming majority of unionist MLAs was enough to defeat the motion.
The vote comes after the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland, and the Church and Society Commission of the Church of Ireland have called on the Assembly to reject the motions.
In an open letter to members of the Assembly, the Catholic bishops wrote: “As a Church we believe every person is equal in the sight of God and should always be treated with dignity and respect. Inspired by the Gospel, we oppose all unjust discrimination, harassment and violence and are committed to working for the common good in which the needs of the vulnerable, the marginalised and the poor are of fundamental concern.”
“The proposed ‘Marriage Equality’ motion before the Assembly effectively says to parents, children and society that the State should not, and will not, promote any normative or ideal family environment for raising children. It therefore implies that the biological bond and natural ties between a child and its mother and father have no intrinsic value for the child or for society. As Pope Francis stated recently, 'we must reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity'.”
The letter, whose signatories include Cardinal Sean Brady and coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, concludes by saying “We ask you to reaffirm the unique value to children and society of the mutual and complementary roles of a mother and father, committed to a loving and life-long relationship to each other in marriage. We ask you promote the value of children being brought up, where possible and in their best interests, by their biological parents. We ask you not to undermine the principle of equality by applying it inappropriately to two fundamentally different types of relationship. We ask you to strengthen and support marriage between a woman and a man as a unique and highly valued institution of vital importance to the good of society. We therefore appeal to you to reject the forthcoming motion on what the motion describes, inappropriately, as 'Marriage Equality'.”
The Church of Ireland's statement notes that "As recently as its General Synod meeting in May 2012 the Church of Ireland affirmed its position on marriage:
‘The Church of Ireland continues to uphold its teaching that marriage is part of God’s creation and a holy mystery in which one man and one woman become one flesh … The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and life–long, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side … The Church of Ireland recognises for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage.’"
Yesterday's Assembly vote was the third on a same-sex marriage motion in the last two years. MLAs rejected same-sex marriage last year by 53 votes to 42, and in 2012 the plans were voted down 50 to 45.