The motion called for the ‘same rights and entitlements to civil marriage for all citizens regardless of race, religion or sexuality’. The Council voted in favour of the motion despite strong objections from Unionist representatives, and an abstention from the Alliance representative. Down has now become the fourth local Authority in Ireland to pass such a motion following on from Belfast, Magherafelt, Omagh and Cork City Council.
Proposer Councillor Stephen Burns said: “Sinn Féin is a party committed to the equality agenda. We believe that all citizens regardless of race, religion or sexuality should be treated as equals in the eyes of the law. Every citizen should enjoy the same rights and entitlements that includes in relation to marriage and this is the basis of the motion passed by the council. This is about ensuring marriage equality for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.
“We believe the Civil Partnership Act, whilst welcome doesn’t go far enough in that it provides same-sex couples with similar legal rights to married couples but does not allow such unions to be referred to as marriages.”
DUP Councillor Garth Craig countered by saying that this was not a human rights issue. He passed over the discussion to his party leader William Dick who said this was “a pointless motion” and that his party supported the tradition view of marriage. He added: I am confident that that majority of people in our district are opposed to this idea. A petition from Northern Ireland with 560,000 signatures was handed in to Downing Street and this speaks for a large part of the populatioWe can’t have the government redefining marriage. The European Court has decreed that there is no legal right to gay marriage. The DUP has a clear position on this and I appeal to all who have the interests of our society at heart.”
SDLP Councillor Eamonn O’Neill said in supporting the motion: “”The institution of marriage is a central teaching of all major religions in the woprld and is an issue which unearths a deeply and highly held emotional response in many people.
“It is important to understand that civil and religious marriage are different and it important that we have this debate. The SDLP is proud to stand up for everyone’s rights in our society and we would support everyone in this regardless of sex, race, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation.
“We have actively supported the work of the Civil Partnership Bill which passed through the Hose of Commons in 2004. The SDLP contributed to the making of this law.
“We believe this Act has not undermined the covenant of marriage but given further equality to people regardless of sexual orientation. The Act enables greater fairness in dealing with issues such as inheritance, tax, social security, and pension and property rights.
“This is another clear example of the need to have a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland as proposed in the Good Friday Agreement.”
Also, Councillor O’Neill reminded Councillors that the Council had a responsibility to look carefully at this issue as it had a marriage function through the registrar’s office.
Alliance Councillor Patrick Clarke abstained from the vote as his party was soon to be discussing this matter in a month’s time. He said: “Alliance has a strong history of supporting equality and human rights fro people regardless of their religion, race, nationality, gender or sexuality. We supported the introduction of Civil Partnerships in Northern Ireland in order to ensure that gay and lesbian couples in stable relationships would have the same legal protections and recognitions heterosexual couples enjoy.”
Also, Independent Councillor Terry Andrews would not participate in the recorded vote saying that he objected to this process since coming into Council.
The Council decided in favour by a majority of civil marriage having the same rights as a marriage in church.