Belfast celebrates Pride amid hope same-sex marriage ban is lifted

Belfast celebrates Pride amid hope same-sex marriage ban is lifted

Thousands took to the streets of Belfast for what could be the last Pride held under the same-sex marriage ban in Northern Ireland.

Ulster has been packed with people proudly waving rainbow flags and dressed in their best costumes ready for the annual LGBT parade.

On Friday night, a giant rainbow flag was delivered down Belfast Lough on a flotilla of boats blasting their horns to cheers from onlookers.

Today it is flying high outside of the City Hall for the first time ever, which Lord Mayor John Finucane described as ‘hugely significant’.

Another first for this year’s celebrations was the appearance of Irish premier Leo Varadkar, who posed for grinning selfies with party-goers in the crowd.

He posted photos on Twitter and wrote: ‘Biggest march in Northern Ireland is not orange or green, it’s rainbow coloured. This is NI at its best. Best of Britishness and Irishness.’

Varadkar, Ireland’s first openly gay premier, also joined 60,000 people in Dublin for its Pride march in June, this year.

His presence will be seen as a significant moment, as same-sex marriage remains a contentious political issue in Northern Ireland.

Unlike friends in the rest of the UK, LGBT couples hoping to tie the knot cannot legally do so in Northern Ireland.

Since January 2017 there has been no functioning government, causing Labour MPs, Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn, to table bill amendments to change the law to be in line with the rest of the UK.

The changes were approved in Parliament, meaning if a government has not been restored in Northern Ireland by October 21, same-sex marriage will be legalised.

If this happens, new laws regarding same-sex marriage will come into force by January 2020.

However, this will not happen if Sinn Fein and the DUP can reach an agreement to form a new Executive before the deadline.

Today’s parade kicked off at 1pm at Custom House and made its way through the city centre to cheers and dancing from thousands lined up on the streets.

Many street parties, after-events and shows will carry on late into the night.

Speaking ahead of the event, Mr Finucane, who is leading the parade, described it as one of the highlights of his year as mayor.

He said: ‘This was an excellent event organised by Belfast Pride, they had a flotilla coming down the Lagan to present me with one of the original Gilbert Baker Pride flags to mark the significance of the Pride flag flying over the City Hall for the first time in our history as a city tomorrow and to celebrate what I think will be the biggest and the best ever Pride festival in Belfast.’

 

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