Reprinted from Belfast Live: Exclusive: Thousands in Northern Ireland are demanding referendum on gay marriage
19:29, 28 April 2015 By Jilly Beattie
Three people a minute are signing an online petition calling for the public to have the final say on the future of civil marriage
Three people a minute are signing an on-line petition calling for a referendum on gay marriage in Northern Ireland.
More than 5,000 people already signed up to the change.org petition created by Newtownabbey man Chris Torbitt in its first 24 hours, and the figure is rising fast.
The Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday rejected a proposal calling for the introduction of gay marriage, after debating the issue for a fourth time.
A total of 96 MLAs took part in the vote and 49 voted against the Sinn Féin motion calling for civil marriage equality for all. An other 47 were in favour and of 53 unionists, only four voted yes.
Sinn Féin, SDLP and five Alliance MLAs supported the motion. The DUP opposed it and the Ulster Unionists were given a free vote on the issue.
Now Chris says the people of Northern Ireland should be given the chance to decide.
The 26-year-old, who came out to his mum 13 years ago, told Belfast Live: “Equality is not a luxury, it is a right and at the moment in Northern Ireland civil marriage is not open to everyone therefore people are not being treated with equality.
“I want this to change, thousands of people want this to change and now I am asking people to sign a petition on-line to see how many people feel strongly about this. Our world needs to change, and only we can change it for the better.
“Being gay is not a crime or a choice. I came out to my mum 13 years ago and told my dad two years ago. He shook my hand and hugged me and they both told me I am their son first and foremost and anything else comes after their love for me. I wish there were more people like them and I think many people would support civil marriage for all if they were given the chance.
“Today the people of Northern Ireland have the power to effect change here.
“We have the ability right now to show our support to not only our LGBT family and friends but to all LGBT people throughout Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.”
Chris spoke to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness on a live radio show and asked him if he feels the time has come for the NI electorate to supersede the Assembly and vote through a referendum on the LGBT civil marriage issue.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
He said: “His response to this was that he would be in support of a Northern Ireland referendum around this issue as he believes it would be successful.
“So now I’m asking people to send a message to Europe and the rest of the world that Northern Ireland is not the backward, bigoted, sectarian, stuck-in-the-past country that we are perceived to be.
“Instead we can be seen as a nation of people that will stand up for what’s right, stand up for equality, support one another and welcome all people of difference to our shore.
“Let’s show our politicians that it’s not up to them, we the people demand to be heard.
“For more than 30 years this little country has been plagued by bitter, bigoted, sectarian issues that even today are still unfortunately finding roots.
“Thankfully in today’s society this is a considerable minority as most of the inhabitants here want to move beyond to a bright and prosperous Northern Ireland where everyone is treated with respect, dignity and equality.
“This is not a political issue. This is not ‘orange and green’. This is simply about people who love one another so much that they would like to spend the rest of their lives together.
“Some may ask why they need to get married – can’t they just live together and share their life together or even get civil partnered? Won’t this change the definition of marriage?
“Civil Partnership does not provide the same protections to a spouse that Civil Marriage would. It is not the same thing.
“Marriage is something that everyone contemplates growing up. By not allowing LGBT people access to this they are being treated like second-class citizens; unworthy of the same legal standing as heterosexual couples.
“This in turn tells young people that it is wrong to be LGBT and therefore encourages a negative environment in which they feel they are abnormal and there is something wrong with them. This can have serious ramifications on mental health and physical wellbeing.
“Why shouldn’t they have the opportunity to get married the same as heterosexual couples? LGBT couples should be able to live life the same as heterosexual couples, make similar plans.
“Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that does not have equal marriage legislation in place.
“The Republic of Ireland will vote through referendum to accept or reject equal marriage legislation. Polls currently indicate that equal marriage will pass in the ROI referendum.
The change.org petition is attracting huge support
“Civil Marriage will not change the definition of marriage to the detriment of what it currently represents. If we really look at what marriage is about then there is no reason to exclude LGBT people.
“The very essence of marriage is about love. Love between two people that want to spend the rest of their life together. Religious institutions will not be forced to provide same-sex ceremonies.
“Churches, mosques, temples etc will not be used for services celebrating same-sex ceremonies unless welcomed by that institution/organisation. Various protections will be built into equal marriage legislation for religious institutions/organisations.
“We need to do this, we need to look forward and move forward together.”