Activists who fought for decades to end Northern Ireland’s same-sex marriage prohibition and constraints on abortion rallied in Belfast Monday to organize for a severe change to the laws on both at the stroke of midnight.
Northern Ireland is the only province of the U.K. that doesn’t permit same-sex marriage. Besides, unlike England, Wales, and Scotland, laws in Northern Ireland oppose abortion except where a mother’s life is at risk, bans that have been upheld by the area’s conservative politicians.
The British province’s power-sharing government collapsed almost three years ago, and the assembly remains postponed, with Northern Eire currently governed mainly from London.
In July, British legislators in London voted overwhelmingly to force the government to overhaul the laws if Belfast’s devolved government was not altered by midnight on Oct. 21.
If a new devolved government is not created by midnight, abortion will be decriminalized, starting a consultation on what the framework for services ought to look like, which is due to be finalized and approved by March 2020.
Abortion rights had been long debated in Northern Ireland by religious conservatives in both the Protestant community that supports continued British domination and the Catholic community that favors union with the traditionally Catholic Irish Republic.
Previous efforts to follow the Irish Republic in legalizing abortion have been blocked by the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party, utilizing a special veto meant to stop discrimination towards one community over one other.
The mothballed Assembly was suspended briefly by unionists on Monday in a last-ditch attempt to dam changes that failed on procedural fronts.