Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland: 'We're asking to be treated with dignity'

By Imran Rahman-Jones
Newsbeat reporter

image sourceStephen Donnan

"We're not asking for the world here," says Stephen Donnan.

"We're asking for a simple change in the law to let us be treated with dignity. I think once people realise that, then minds start to change."

Stephen's talking about the campaign to introduce gay marriage into the only UK country where it's not allowed: Northern Ireland.

Campaigners are taking the fight to London to try to get the law changed.

image sourceGetty Images
image captionA sign from a pro-gay marriage march in Belfast last year

Normally, this issue would be handled by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

But because of a row, the Assembly hasn't functioned for the last 15 months.

This gives the UK government the ability to introduce laws into Northern Ireland.

The proposal is being tabled by a Labour MP in the House of Commons on Wednesday. It passed its first parliamentary stage in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

image sourceStephen Donnan
image captionStephen (left) and his partner William

Civil partnerships are allowed for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland, but not marriages.

"It's kind of overdue," says Stephen, who works for a charity in Belfast.

"It doesn't make sense that I can get married in Scotland or London, fly back to Belfast - and I'm not married any more.

"It makes me feel like a second-class citizen."

image sourceGetty Images
image captionStormont is the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly

But Stephen says to even get to the point where marriage equality could become a reality is a massive step.

"I remember in 2011 standing on the steps of Stormont with about nine other people and a banner asking for equal marriage to be introduced.

"It was a pipe dream."

The Northern Ireland Assembly voted for gay marriage in 2015, but it was blocked by the DUP, which is the biggest party in the Assembly.

There has to be cross-party agreement for legislation to go through.

image sourceGetty Images
image captionCampaigners celebrate the Republic of Ireland's legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2015

Stephen says that the introduction of equal marriage to the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland has helped sway the public's opinion.

"There was a lot of talk about how this would change the definition of families, how it would change the definition of marriage," he says.

"Three years later, people are wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place."

For Stephen, that moment in Ireland was "a validation of our existence".

"It wasn't just that gay people were allowed to get married. The message was that it's OK to be gay."

image sourceStephen Donnan
image captionStephen and William got engaged in December

Whether or not this proposal becomes law - it's not certain to - Stephen is confident that it's only a matter of time before he can marry his partner William.

In the meantime, they're getting a civil partnership next year.

"When equal marriage does happen, there's going to be a party," he says.

"For it to happen in Northern Ireland would mean so much to so many people.

"They can say: 'We are who we are, and that's OK.'"

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