Today the Assembly narrowly rejected a Sinn Fein motion on Marriage Equality 47 votes in favour to 49 against. Three Alliance MLAs abstained and five SDLP MLAs did not turn up for the vote (I understand one had a family bereavement.) Of the 53 Unionists who voted just four supported the motion (Danny Kinahan, Basil McCrea, Claire Sugden and John McCallister).
In speaking about the motion and the DUPs petition of concern, the Sinn Fein MLA for Newry & Armagh, Megan Fearon said:
It is disappointing that the DUP have tabled a Petition of Concern to block this important motion.
However, it’s important progressive politicians send a clear message of support for the LGBT community by voting in large numbers for marriage equality.
On social media, the SDLP and Alliance parties received a lot of grief as (even though it would’ve made little difference) had either the 3 Alliance MLAs or the 5 SDLP MLAs supported the motion it would’ve had a majority in favour.
As he responded for the DUP, Peter Weir noted the division on the opposite side of the house saying:
For some of those parties who position themselves as the champions of same-sex marriage, today’s debate simply highlighted their own internal difficulties. There is always a question as to whether we should be concerned for the wellbeing of several SDLP MLAs who just happen to go missing when such a debate is taking place. Similarly, despite the supposed fulsome support of the Alliance Party, three of the MLAs today could not bring themselves to vote in support.
For all their talk about equality, in both the SDLP and Alliance, it seems that all members are not equal when it comes to same sex marriage.
The NI21 MLA, Basil McCrea put out a video that was also critical of the SDLP and Alliance parties for how some of their MLAs had voted/not been present
I suppose the question has to be put, should the discipline shown from those who oppose this motion be adopted to the same extent on the other side of the argument or should a more loose free vote policy be adopted across the chamber?
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs