Marriage Equality Isn't Legal In Northern Ireland, So This Couple Held A 'Big Gay Wedding' Outside The Legislature

The pictures are incredible.

What do you do when the country you call home refuses to support your same-sex marriage? If you're Mark McLoughlin and Neal Rush, a pair of 22-year-old LGBTQ activists who have been together for two years, you throw one heck of a #BigGayWedding in protest.

On May 22, per Mashable, the couple staged the colorful and joyous mock nuptials on the steps of Stormont, Northern Ireland's center of government, to protest the country's ban on same-sex marriage. The date carries special significance, as it marked the two year anniversary of the Marriage Equality Referendum in Ireland.

Northern Ireland and Ireland are two separate countries, and Northern Ireland is governed, in part, by its own legislative body. Northern Ireland is also the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is not yet legal. 

McLoughlin and Rush were approached by the Love Equality NI campaign — an organization that fights for civil marriage equality in Northern Ireland — which collaborated with the National Union of Students, and the Union of Students in Ireland to organize the mock wedding that served as part celebration and part protest. Last year, the organization staged a similar mock wedding for a lesbian couple.



"You can now get married in England, Wales, Scotland and the South of Ireland but not in the North," Rush explains to A Plus. "So we were staging a protest in order to highlight the hypocrisy of the situation."

Rush, who calls the reaction from the couple's friends and family "amazing," adds, "We didn't hesitate at all about getting involved as we both know the importance of getting some visibility for our community. It's important to get the message out and to let people know we're here to stay and we will continue to fight for our rights."

Though same-sex marriages are still denied in Northern Ireland, recent research shows a majority of the country's people actually support them, marking a significant shift from as recently as 2014. According to The Belfast Telegraph, a 2015 poll found 68 percent of adults in Northern Ireland believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

The problem lies in Northern Ireland's complicated political system. As Rush sees it, LGBT people in his country are still "treated as second class citizens by some of our politicians." That's because, despite now earning support from multiple parties, the Democratic Unionist Party uses a mechanism called the petition of concern to block the Marriage Equality Referendum in the assembly every time it is brought forward. They used this tactic most recently in 2015.

"The PoC was implemented in the Good Friday Agreement in order to protect minorities," Rush tells A Plus. "If you can get 30 Members of the Legislative Assembly to sign the PoC, the motion is dead in the water before it is even voted on."

As McLoughlin points out, it's ironic that something intended to protect minorities is now keeping other minorities from their right to marry. "They blocked [the Equal Marriage Referendum] because of their own religious beliefs," he says of the Democratic Unionist Party, which has strong links to Protestant churches.

"We just hope people will understand that all we are asking for is the same rights as everybody else. No more and no less," he adds. "We hope people see that we are just normal people and that we don't want special privileges which some people seem to believe." 

Photos from the wedding have been blowing up on social media with people sending well wishes from all over the world.

"We want to show people that our love is the same and that there is no harm in celebrating equal civil marriage," Rush explains. "It will improve the life of thousands across the North."

In spite of the political setbacks, Rush and McLoughlin remain confident Northern Ireland will one day grant them the right to marry in a real, legal ceremony. "We are very hopeful to get our equal rights in the near future since it's the wishes of the majority of the people here," Rush tells A Plus.

Adds McLoughlin, "Northern Ireland has definitely come a long way in terms of its view towards LGBT people and equal marriage. We are no doubt becoming a more forward-thinking and embracing society and long may it continue. We have come a long way. We still have a long way to go. The fight isn't over and we'll keep it up until all our LGBT brothers and sisters are afforded equal rights!" 



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