The U.K. Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday night to legalize same-sex marriage and extend access to abortion services in Northern Ireland by Oct. 21 unless the country can re-establish its own devolved government.
According to The Independent, “The devolved executive and assembly which have powers over the region collapsed in January 2017 owing to ongoing disagreements between the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] and Sinn Féin, and all attempts to restore power-sharing have since failed.” Northern Ireland has now been without a government for two years.
In a 383-73 vote, lawmakers approved an amendment introduced by Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Conor McGinn to permit same-sex marriage, which has been the law in the rest of the U.K. for the last five years.
Shortly after, in a 332-99 vote, MPs approved an amendment by another Labour MP, Stella Creasy, to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland, a country with one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world and the only part of the U.K. where it remains illegal.
“While the 1967 Abortion Act broadly legalized the procedure throughout the rest of the U.K. (England, Scotland and Wales), it has never been extended to Northern Ireland, where an 1861 law still holds,” CNN reported.
“This bill … does not uphold the democratic wishes of the people here, who have consistently voted for pro-life politicians to represent their views,” said Bernadette Smyth, Director of Precious Life, the largest pro-life group in Northern Ireland, following the bill’s announcement. “In reality, this disturbing bill overrides the entire democratic will of the people here and shows an utter contempt for the people of Northern Ireland and our elected representatives.”
However, under amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, both these laws would be changed.
Ciarán Kelly, Deputy Director of The Christian Institute, a nondenominational Christian charity supported by individuals and churches throughout the U.K. that is committed to upholding the truths of the Bible, said: “Northern Ireland’s good laws to protect marriage and the sanctity of life would be axed at a stroke. It is for elected representatives in Northern Ireland to decide, and the people of Northern Ireland must be consulted.”
The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson described the vote in Westminster as “undermining the political institutions of Northern Ireland.”
According to The Irish Times, Donaldson told RTE radio’s Morning Ireland that marriage equality and abortion are “sensitive issues” and should have been a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to decide “through their elected representatives.”
“To do it this way is breaking the devolution settlement—that’s not the way to make the law. … Democracy should provide the opportunity for people to make change, and that won’t happen if there’s no devolved government.”
Though not law yet, the two measures would align the country’s current laws with the rest of the United Kingdom and would become law by Oct. 21 unless an executive is formed before this date.