Thousands of demonstrators show support for same-sex marriage in Belfast

Thousands of people have joined a major parade through Belfast city centre demanding same-sex marriage rights.

This afternoon's demonstration will conclude with a rally in front of City Hall.

The ban on equal marriage in Northern Ireland is one of several sticking points delaying the formation of a new powersharing government at Stormont.

It is the only part of the UK and Ireland where the practice remains outlawed.

The Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) opposition to changing the law has attracted increased scrutiny across the UK since the party became the UK Government's kingmaker at Westminster.

On Friday a senior member of the Democratic Unionists recognised its view may be in a minority across the UK but said the stance should be respected.

Ahead of Saturday's parade a range of celebrities including Liam Neeson, Stephen Fry and Graham Norton voiced their support for the campaign.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also joined the leaders of all the main parties at Holyrood to call for a law change across the Irish Sea.

Amnesty International is helping organise the parade, headed by Belfast Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister.

The DUP has used a controversial Stormont voting mechanism, the petition of concern, to prevent a law change, despite a majority of assembly members supporting the move at the last vote.

The party rejects any suggestion it is homophobic, insisting it is instead protecting the "traditional" definition of marriage.

Following March's snap Assembly election, the DUP no longer has the voting strength to prevent the measure in its own right, though it could still potentially combine with other socially conservative public representatives to do so.

That will only be tested once, and if, a devolved Assembly can be re-established out of the current political crisis in Belfast.

If politicians fail to establish a new ministerial executive, direct rule from Westminster could be re-imposed.

If that were to happen, the responsibility for legislating on the region's marriage laws would be handed to the London government.


 

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