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What Does The Same-Sex Marriage/Abortion Vote Mean For NI?

Tuesday saw MPs vote through amendments to the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Bill which will see same-sex marriage legalised.

While the UK Government is forced to legislate for abortion reform, including decriminalisation. But, what does all of that mean?

It's important to remember that there are two ways to read what happened in parliament yesterday.

The first, how many campaigners see it, is that this is a watershed moment towards legalising same-sex marriage and liberalising Victorian-era abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

The other take is that this is the biggest step yet by Westminster when it comes to implementing a direct rule in NI, considering that their government (Stormont) has been defunct since January 2017 owing to ongoing disagreements between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin, and all attempts to restore power-sharing have since failed.

Due to a collapsed local government and a need to discuss legislation that "infringes upon human rights", Westminster has stepped in to do the job. 

The social conservative DUP voted against both same-sex marriage and abortion, arguing that parliament was overstepping the mark and the matters should remain devolved. It's not surprising that they would take this stance, given that they do not want legislation around the two divisive amendments to change. 

However, MPs have grown critical of Northern Ireland's non-functioning government and feel they have a duty to step in – hence, the vote. 

However, it bears repeating that the amendments are subject to one big caveat.

MPs (armed with the majority vote to allow for same-sex marriage and abortion) will only take effect if Stormont is not restored by 21 October, which is the next obligatory date by which the NI secretary must call an assembly election.

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So, is it possible that we could see a quick fast breakthrough by Stormont parties, to take back control of the issues?

While it is possible, it seems rather unlikely. 

Any final agreement on a deal has to come between DUP and Sinn Féin, who boast stark opposition on a number of points, including abortion and same-sex marriage. For contextual purposes, Sinn Féin has previously campaigned for same-sex marriage to be legalised in Northern Ireland.

Some say that this is simply to curry voting favour with Ireland's majority, but that's neither here nor there. 

The DUP has long faced criticism in the past for being a Northern Ireland-based party, yet all but swearing allegiance to the UK, but allowing these two laws (that they vehemently oppose, lest we forget) to pass through Westminster would actually take a lot off of their plate. 

However, this does leave Westminster open to changing other laws – something that would be a local party's worst nightmare. Meaning, the DUP's next move will be extremely telling in regards to the future of both amendments. 

The amendments to the Northern Ireland Bill - which were tabled by Conor McGinn MP (concerning equal marriage) and Stella Creasy MP (concerning abortion) - were voted through by 383 votes to 73 for equal marriage and 332 votes to 99 for abortion.

Given the controversy and divisive attitudes surrounding these debates before they were even chaired, some may find it surprising that these two were even selected to debate in the first place. 

However, it's perhaps a nod to the all-encompassing power of politics which can bring about change on issues brought forward by a strong-willed majority.

Main image by @papermagazine

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