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'At midnight, together, we make history': Abortion and same-sex marriage to become legal in Northern Ireland at midnight

The i logo The i 21/10/2019
a group of people posing for a picture © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

Women's rights and LGBTQ activists are preparing to celebrate a victory when same-sex marriage and abortion rights are legalised in Northern Ireland at midnight.

Abortion and equal marriage will be legalised on Tuesday after a historic impasse between the Northern Ireland's political parties led to the laws being passed in Westminster, with the DUP failing to block them coming into effect.

a man holding a sign © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

MLAs from the DUP, UUP and some from the nationalist SDLP gathered in Stormont for the first time in two and a half years to protest the change in an abortion law, while campaigners from both sides gathered at the front of Parliament Buildings on Monday morning to voice their contrasting views on the emotive issue.

Arlene Foster et al. standing in front of a building © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

Unionist meeting fails to stop law

But the noon sitting remained largely symbolic, as the Assembly cannot perform its legislative functions without a ministerial executive in place. Until the DUP and Sinn Fein can resolve their differences to put one in place, the devolved parliament is hamstrung.

While rival MLAs have branded it a meaningless stunt, the members who signed the 30-strong recall petition during the session have insisted it will provide a forum to voice opposition to the imminent decriminalisation of abortion in the region.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the passage of the legislation was a "shameful day" and pledged to fight on.

Michelle O'Neill, the Northern Ireland leader of Sinn Féin, met members of the press in the lobby to condemn the move.

“I wish that the DUP and others would put as much effort into making power sharing work as they have done today to try and deny rights to the LGBT+ community and women," she said.

“I would like to commend all those activists that have campaigned relentlessly over many decades for LGBT equality and women’s rights.”Addressing media at Stormont. pic.twitter.com/JKXwq1ALT0

— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) October 21, 2019

“I would like to commend all those activists that have campaigned relentlessly over many decades for LGBT equality and women’s rights.

Same-sex couples to marry on Valentine's Day

LGBTQ campaigners, who have spent years driving for a change to the legislation, said they are "thrilled" that the legislation will allow for same-sex marriage in every part of the UK.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International, a member of the Love Equality campaign, said he was grateful to Labour MPs Conor McGinn and Stella Creasy for passing same-sex marriage in Westminster.

“For years, rights campaigners here fought for equality and rights for people in Northern Ireland.

“Today, we celebrate success, secured not because of the presence of Stormont, but because of its absence.

“Despite overwhelming popular support for change, sadly the Executive and Assembly repeatedly failed to deliver marriage equality and abortion law reform.

Same-sex marriage will begin to become legal in Northern Ireland from midnight (Photo: Peter Morrison/PA Wire)

“When Stormont collapsed, we took our campaigns to Westminster.

“I was proud to be in the House of Commons in July when it voted by a huge margin in favour of the crucial amendments tabled by MPs Conor McGinn and Stella Creasy.

“This is an incredible moment for so many people, especially for same-sex couples who will now be treated as equal citizens in their own country and women who will no longer face the prospect of prosecution for seeking healthcare.

"We are thrilled on this momentous occasion and we're also thrilled that we played our part as a voluntary network to drive change and get behind Northern Ireland by voting on UK & Ireland Pride to be held in Newry this year," said Stephen Ireland, board member of UK Pride Network.

Arlene Foster walks past a painting of former Northern Ireland politician Ian Paisley as she attends a meeting of the Stormont Assembly on abortion rights and gay marriage (Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

“We thank every couple and every woman who told their story publicly, every member of the public who marched with us year after year, and every politician who voted for change. At midnight, together, we make history.”

'The decriminalisation of abortion will mark a momentous victory for women’s rights'

Same-sex couples will be able to marry, serendipitously, on Valentine's Day 2020, while access to abortion by 31 March 2020, with women needing an abortion in the country able to access a fully funded service in England before the law is rolled out.

Katherine O'Brien, a spokesperson for abortion provider Bpas, told i: "The decriminalisation of abortion will mark a momentous victory for women’s rights in Northern Ireland. It is a testament to the years of hard work by campaigners, healthcare professionals, and hundreds of women who have bravely spoken out about the impact of their country’s draconian abortion law."

"Bpas is proud to have been able to provide abortion care for thousands of women from Northern Ireland in our clinics in England since 1968, but we have always been clear that women must be able to access this care at home.

"Policy makers must also consider protections for those who wish to provide and access abortion services, including clinic buffer zones. Medical professionals have operated under one of the strictest abortion laws in the world in Northern Ireland, and guidance and training is needed as a matter of urgency to enable those who wish to provide abortion care to do so.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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