Saturday was one of those days in Belfast, if you didn’t have to be in two places at once then at least you had to get from one place to another pretty sharpish. (If you live in the east, as I do, you had to move pretty nimbly too, to avoid the Orange parades: marching season is already well begun.) The biggest event was a rally in support of marriage equality, organised by Amnesty International, the Rainbow Project and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Following the Yes vote in the 23 May referendum in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland is now the only part of this island – and of the United Kingdom – where same-sex marriage is neither performed nor recognised. As many as 20,000 people took part and stood in good humour and good order (and sunshine) while speaker after speaker told them love stories and asked a simple question of our politicians: why can’t I be married too?
The route of the rally had taken those thousands past the foot of North Street, which was where I, and others, beat a path to as soon as Bronagh Gallagher – a supporter of the Yes campaign in the South too – had, with Quire, Belfast’s LGBT singers, brought proceedings at the City Hall to an end, appropriately enough, in song. For Saturday was also a notable day for music in the city. It had begun with the bestowal of a title on Van Morrison (‘Here Comes the Knight’, as the sub-editors, unable to believe their luck, had it) and ended with Terri Hooley, another great Belfast man of music and near contemporary of Van’s, leaving the stage, or at least his post behind the till of his Good Vibrations record shop, which closed after more than three and a half decades and innumerable changes of location, the last of them on North Street.
Amid the marvellous music and occasional mayhem that he helped generate, one thing about Terri is sometimes overlooked, his lifelong opposition to discrimination in all its forms, summed up in the two words with which he habitually signs off every performance, email and conversation in the street: ‘One love!’ I had the privilege of speaking at Saturday’s marriage equality rally, and they were the words that I finished with: ‘One love, one marriage law for all.’ It will happen.