NI: Killing of NI journalist should spur LGBT+ marriage equality, says partner

Lyra McKee (L) and Sara Canning (R) in a handout photograph. Sara Canning via Thomson Reuters Foundation.

An outpouring of anger and grief over the killing of Northern Irish journalist ,Lyra McKee, should spur politicians to put their differences aside, and introduce equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, her partner said on Friday.

McKee, a journalist and campaigner for LGBT+ rights, was fatally shot by an Irish nationalist militant while reporting on riots in Londonderry on April 18.

Her bereaved partner, Sara Canning, said she had lost their dream of being able to legally marry in their home country, but hoped the response to McKee’s killing might bring change.

“I always though Lyra would change the world. I thought it would be for a much less tragic reason”, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“There has to be something positive from this absolutely senseless tragedy.

“If it was that our government sat down together and started working together and tried to put differences to one side to ensure a fairer and better society, then I could think of nothing that Lyra would like more.”

McKee’s death has brought fresh scrutiny over LGBT+ rights in Northern Ireland, the only part of Britain or Ireland without marriage equality after the Irish Republic voted to change its law in 2015.

Same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil partnerships since 2005, but many do not feel it is enough.

Canning, a nurse, said they had discussed crossing into Ireland to be married, and she learned after McKee’s death that she had planned to propose during a planned trip to New York.

After McKee died, Canning decided to campaign for equal marriage rights, speaking to politicians on all sides.

“I don’t want this voice because of how I gained it,” she said.

“But I have it now and I have to do what Lyra would have done, and that’s to keep on trucking and keep looking at the wider picture that the inequalities that exist in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK are completely unfair.”

More than two-thirds of Northern Irish adults support gay marriage, according to a 2015 poll by Ipsos MORI. But moves to introduce the measure have been repeatedly blocked by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), one of the two major parties.

Northern Ireland has been left without a functioning government for more than two years after the collapse of a power-sharing administration in early 2017.

Talks between the main political parties aimed at restoring the government were announced after McKee’s death, but no breakthrough agreement has yet been reached.


LGBT+ activists have called for the British government to step in to legislate for equal marriage, though Prime Minister, Theresa May, has declined to intervene on Northern Irish issues.

Canning argued that Northern Ireland’s politicians would quietly welcome a diktat from London, as it would allow them to meet demand for same-sex marriage without having to directly face controversy over the issue.

She said she spoke to May at McKee’s funeral but and received a “typical politician’s response”.

“I raised the issue because at the end of the day they have to hear it from the people it actually affects,” she said.

“I thought maybe it would hammer it home a wee bit that this is an issue that actually affects real people: it’s not just a piece of legislation to bounce about, it’s people’s lives.”

Canning said McKee would be “amazed” at the response to her death, and expressed hope her legacy would include increased political cooperation and support for equal marriage.

“I feel it is an inevitability – it’s going to happen, we are going to have marriage equality,” she said.

“To not keep fighting for it seems like it would go completely against everything that she stood for.”

Sonia Elks @soniaelks – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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