When the clock strikes midnight tonight, same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland for the first time.

The historic changes are the result of backbench MPs tabling amendments to a routine Commons Bill on the governance of Northern Ireland.

Labour’s Conor McGinn MP, who is originally from County Armagh, proposed that Westminster legislate for same-sex marriage.

Demonstrators hold placards as they take part in a protest calling for change to Northern Ireland's abortion laws, during a protest in central London on February 26, 2019. (Photo by Niklas HALLE'N / AFP) (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Demonstrators in London calling for legal changes in Northern Ireland

His party colleague, Stella Creasy MP, then proposed the decriminalisation of abortion, and both amendments were carried by significant majorities.

It meant same-sex marriage and abortion would become legal unless the Northern Ireland Assembly had been restored by midnight on 21 October.

Campaigners for social choice called it “a watershed moment” – bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK and Republic of Ireland.

But pro-life groups and churches argued that the changes were being imposed without anyone in Northern Ireland having voted for them.

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Many urged the DUP to compromise on Irish language legislation and restore devolved government in a bid to block abortion.

But it would have been difficult for Sinn Fein, which calls itself a pro-choice party, to resume power-sharing in those circumstances.

The DUP has obtained enough signatures for a recall of the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday but cannot form a government alone.

Sky’s senior Ireland correspondent David Blevins said: “Pro-choice groups say the DUP – who are arguing at Westminster for Northern Ireland to be treated the same as Great Britain on Brexit – will be arguing at Stormont for Northern Ireland to be treated differently on same-sex marriage and abortion.

“But the DUP says some of those calling for a second vote on Brexit are now welcoming the fact that same-sex marriage and abortion are being introduced in Northern Ireland without any public vote at all.”

Demonstrators hold placards as they take part in a protest calling for change to Northern Ireland's abortion laws, during a protest in central London on February 26, 2019. (Photo by Niklas HALLE'N / AFP) (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Demonstrators in London calling for legal changes in Northern Ireland

Last month, the High Court in Belfast ruled that Northern Ireland’s abortion law was in breach of the UK’s human rights commitments.

Until now, termination has been illegal unless there is a risk to a woman’s life or risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

But pro-life groups argue that Northern Ireland will go from having the most stringent abortion laws in the UK to the most liberal.

Last year, voters in the Republic of Ireland voted by a landslide to end the country’s constitutional ban on abortion.

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