Thousands march in Belfast for same sex marriage

Lady Portia Di'Monte (C) takes part in the Rainbow Project rally for marriage equality in Belfast, Northern Ireland, June 13, 2015. (Reuters / Jason Cairnduff)
Up to 20,000 people have taken to the streets of Belfast to call for the introduction of civil marriage for same sex couples in Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK and Ireland not to change its laws.

Amnesty International, the Rainbow Project, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) organized Saturday’s demonstration.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director, who addressed the rally, said it was "simply unacceptable for the state to discriminate against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity".

"That's why we are on the march today and why we will walk every step of the way with you and the LGBTI community, and why we will not stop until every one of us can enjoy the same rights and recognition before the law," he added.

Northern Ireland was actually the first part of the UK to hold a civil partnership in 2005, but has not moved with the rest of the islands in legalizing gay marriage.

Unionists in Stormont, the Northern Irish parliament, have rejected four Sinn Fein motions calling to legislate on marriage equality for the province.

"Ten years later, with every other part of these islands recognising marriage equality, citizens in Northern Ireland have effectively been left behind," the ICTU said in a statement.

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Last month 62 percent of the electorate in the Republic of Ireland voted to legalize same sex marriage making it the first country in the world to make gay marriage legal by a referendum.

The Northern Irish novelist Glenn Patterson who also addressed the crowd told them that they must follow the example of their neighbors south of the border.

"We will never forsake the blue skies of Ulster for the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet skies of the Irish Republic. We are going to bring them here," he said.