Ian Paisley and his legacy

There is no doubting that Ian Paisley was one of the biggest characters that Northern Ireland politics through the troubles and in the years of peace since the end has ever seen. He founded his own party which is now the largest in the Northern Ireland Assembly and also founded his own Church the Free Presbyterian Church in Ulster which maybe not surprisingly is disproportionately strongly represented within the DUP.

We do have him to thank for the return of devolution to Northern Ireland in 2007 and the longest continuous period of devolved power here since the abolition of the Northern Ireland Parliament and return to direct rule in 1972.

Today his wife Eileen has announced that he has passed on and therefore our thoughts are with her their two sons, three daughters and grandchildren for their personal loss.

However, we know that he took decades to catch up with many in Northern Ireland to realise that the only way to end conflict in our wee country was to sit down with Sinn Féin and accept that the will of the people some 6 or 7 years earlier to accept the Belfast Agreement was the only way for Northern Ireland to progress. Sadly for the LGBT community there is some progress that he never seemed to make and for us the legacy within his party is that they are still fighting to “Save Ulster from Sodomy” which is another organisation that he set up.

Of course on 25th October 1982 he has his turn in Westminster to speak against decriminalising homosexuality here in Northern Ireland. Part of his speech was:

“I regret the fact that the Secretary of State and the Minister of State were not prepared to listen to the strong representations made to them by many deputations. Each person in Northern Ireland has a right to his own conviction and some people there believe that homosexuality is not only a defiance of human law but a defiance of divine law. [Hon. Members: "Oh"!] I make no apology. I shall maintain in the House, no matter what point of view shouts, the right to say what I think needs to be said.

“The things that have been brought into the order that need not have been are matters that the Secretary of State, when he heard these strong representations, could have given in to. Instead of that, he was prepared to go on and present this matter as it has been presented.

“The House should know the strong feelings in Northern Ireland, and that those feelings do not come from one particular party or one particular religion, but from across the whole strata of Northern Ireland society. The one thing that binds society together is the family unit. Those who say that the family unit is ignorance, are welcome to that sort of belief. I believe that the family unit is the basic cement of society. This order, legalising homosexuality, attacks the very cement of society. It weakens not only the moral but the social fibre of society. Those of us who believe in the sanctity of the home and in the strength and moral power of the home must voice their opposition to the order.”

However, in the same speech some 22 years before the introduction of Civil Partnerships in the UK and over 30 years before the introduction of same-sex marriages it may be that Ian Paisley was one of the first to raise the possibility of these happening. Of course he was anti when he raised the issue but in the same speech he did say:

“If the nations of Europe go further and say that points must be given for homes for those who enter into a homosexual relationship on marriage, what will the House’s attitude be to that?”

Paisley may well therefore have been one of the first MPs to allude to equal marriage in the House of Commons. But of course currently it is not the nations of Europe that have gone further and called for same-sex or equal marriage but those of the Union a word that appears within the name of the party he formed.

When Civil partnerships were up for discussion he said it wouldn’t prove significant in Northern Ireland:

“The census of 2001 found only 288 same-sex couple households in the whole of Northern Ireland. The Government say that only 5 per cent. of same-sex couples will commit to civil partnerships. Well, 5 per cent. of 288 is 14, so 14 couples in Northern Ireland will have the opportunity provided by the Bill, even though a majority of people who have a view on the matter across the political and religious divide oppose it. Their voices were not heard or taken into account. The basis of family law in Northern Ireland is to be changed for the sake of 14 homosexual couples.”

Well to the end of 2012 there were 727 Civil Partnerships carried out here in Northern Ireland, so clearly this was something that mattered to far more than the 14 couples Dr Paisley thought it was a concern for or the 288 couples who in 2001 were bold enough on the census to list themselves as in a relationship. But of course these people hadn’t just appeared since 2001 the situation in Northern Ireland since then has merely made them more likely to be open and honest about who they are. Most of those who were adults and cohabiting in 2001 would have been children or teenagers at the height of the Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign. Many of them will have internalised their identity or fled Northern Ireland to be able to live openly as who they are. With the change in Northern Irish society being more able to accept otherness they have opened up or returned.

The extended coverage on Northern Ireland television today is talking about his faith, his decision to come in from the cold and enter the executive but it is skirting around the elephant in the room. Sadly it is an elephant that still stamps through the DUP. While they are a party that believes now that Roman Catholics can be trusted in positions of power LGBT people cannot be trusted to not ruin families, society and Northern Ireland if they are allowed equality.

He turned around on working with Sinn Féin and though his language may have softened down the years, his presence protesting ever LGBT step out from behind closed doors no longer evident, he never really stepped

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New term, same old prejudice

The MLAs are back up on the hill but already the list of motions and proposed amendments makes for horrid reading for the LGBT community.

One of North Down’s DUP MLAs Peter Weir on the 1 September one that reads:

Equal Marriage

That this Assembly notes that numerous Motions have reaffirmed that no support exists for the introduction of equal marriage; and agrees that further consideration would be pointless during the remainder of this Assembly term.

In other words seeking to place an almost 2 year petition of concern on any further discussion on the issue until after the elections in May 2016. This would even therefore no doubt continue the DUP’s contempt of judicial process were a legal challenge be raised in Northern Irish courts about the inequality of equal marriages from the rest of the UK being only recognised a civil partnerships here, or the fact that LGBT people here do not have equal access to marriage as the remainder of the UK.

There is also one that is more innocently worded again from Mr Weir and his West Tyrone colleague Tom Buchanan:

Conscience Clause

That this Assembly notes the increasing number of cases across the UK in which the freedom of religion is afforded a lesser priority than other fundamental freedoms; acknowledges that this gradation of fundamental rights often leads to people of faith leaving their employment or being forced out of business; and calls on the Minister for Employment and Learning to bring forward legislation to introduce a conscience clause for people of faith to allow them to exercise religious freedom in the workplace.

This is the oh my god moment, pardon the pun. For a start freedom of religion is not afforded anything less than other freedoms, they are all treated equally. But the wording of this clause is to make freedom of religion superior to all others. Allowing people of faith the ability of exercise their religious freedom in the workplace means that small business owners could because of the loose wording of this proposal refuse to serve people whose lifestyle they disagree with. We all know that this will not necessarily affect unmarried heterosexuals in the same way that it will affect homosexuals. If two men or women walk in together some of those who cry out about their religious freedom are far more likely to turn them away than two people of opposite sex.

This is further backed up by another DUP motion in the name of Paul Girvan (Lagan valley) and Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) which names a specific high profile case of the above:

Reasonable Accommodation in Equality Legislation

That this Assembly notes with concern the action taken by the Equality Commission against Ashers Bakery; and calls for a review of equality legislation that will provide reasonable accommodation for the religious beliefs of service providers in the provision of goods, services and facilities.

The fact is that of course initially this business took and order then under discussion turned it down. The proximity of a bakery to the city centre must surely mean that they must get all manner of requests for custom cakes for organisations based in the city centre does Ashers have to agree with the aims of every one of them before taking an order? This is company who has claimed that they faith is paramount yet while their shops themselves are closed on a Sunday in respect of their faith their products are available in Garden Centres and shops that do open on a Sunday with their branding on them. But it is another call for a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs again against only one other minority sector as laid out in Section 75.

Of course all of these have merely been laid before the business committee there is no date for when or even if they will come before the committee but there are three direct attacks on the LGBT community one clear it its intention that no matter what progress may be made elsewhere on equal marriage there is no way that the DUP is going to allow legislation to move on before 2016.

The other two are more thinly veiled but a reading between the lines of them shows what their intent is. The conscience clause was mentioned in light of the Ashers case and it was clear that the DUP spokespeople wanted to have religious freedom usurp equality irregardless of sexual orientation.

So there are three motions laid down by members of the DUP that aim to either place religion above the rights of LGBT people to be treated equally, and in one a way to stifle debate for 2 years on an issue that is fast changing across the USA and the world as we speak. The continuation of the DUP to institutionalise their homophobia through the niceties of Assembly procedure and their veiled attempt to bring in animal farm style all freedoms are equal but some are more equal than others is a horrifying read in this the 21st Century.

 

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Unionists make one a day less equal in Northern Ireland

Yesterday the Government announced that there had been 1409 same-sex marriages in the first 3 months since the legislation came into force in England and Wales allowing them to happen.

As we have mentioned many times in the past it has been the unionist politicians who have blocked similar legislation coming into force here in Northern Ireland. So how many have been affected here as a result of their intransigence?

Looking at the 2011 Census there were 1.81 million people here in Northern Ireland, this compares to 53 million in England and 3.06 million in Wales. So that gives us a formula of:

Equal Marriage sumsIn other words there could have been an extra 45.5 marriages in Northern Ireland, which would equate to 182 over a year affecting 364 people. That is one person for every day of the year that the unionists are denying the right to be married and equally British because of the sexual orientation, their choice of life partner and location of where they live.

So with every day that passes we are really adding one more person who currently is less equal that if they life in England and Wales, once similar legislation comes into place in Scotland it will mean that that individual is falling behind the whole of the UK. If the referendum in Ireland leads to it south of the border it will from everywhere surrounding us.

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Bisexuality and a lesson for the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland

Speaking in The Newsletter today the public policy officer of the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland (EANI) David Smyth said:

“While Saturday was a day of celebration for some, it was a concerning day for many.

“Christian opposition to same-sex marriage was never just about protecting churches. It’s always been about the wellbeing and welfare of family and communities for generations to come.

“The whole idea of “equal” marriage comes from a premise that many outrightly reject, that marriage is an inequality to be corrected.

“This change in marriage law was argued on the grounds of equality and love.

“What about ‘equal marriage’ for the bisexual person who is ‘banned’ from being able to marry both their male and female partners?”

First a definition for Mr Smyth:

bisexual (baɪˈsɛksjʊəl) adj

1. sexually attracted by both men and women from freedictionary.com
Note this is merely the attraction to both sexes. Under no definition of bisexuality will you find that that attraction is to two people of opposite genders simultaneously or concurrently. Bi-sexual people have the same propensity to monogamous relationships as any other individual, indeed 89% of those in a ten year study in 19971 found that to be the case. Considering the number of unfaithful straight people who are cheating on their wives and partners this is probably about the norm, but something that the EANI would probably want to sweep under the carpet.

Another fact about the new marriages that came into law in England and Wales at the weekend is that there is still the point in the ceremony where anybody present knows of any lawful impediment why they cannot be married. This includes an non-dissolved marriage or civil partnership to another individual (even the one that is standing opposite them). So the current law does not allow for anybody to be married to two partners of different genders, they would be subject to the same bigamy laws that apply to heterosexual couples.What Mr Smith appears to be worried about is polyamorous relationships. Definition time:

polyamory (pä-lē-ˈa-mə-rē) noun

the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time  from Merriam-Webster.com

You will notice here there is no reference to sexual orientation of the couples involved. However, there are plenty of examples of such relationships in the bible all of which are one man with two or more wives and/or concubines.

However, the one thing that does strike me from this statement is actually the line which says, “it’s always been about the wellbeing and welfare of family and
communities for generations to come.”

Now I certainly have the support of my family, whether as the gay son, brother, cousin or uncle. However, my well being is often under threat from those in the church who condemn me or them for giving that support to me. The same applies to the other LGBT people I know who have grown up and exist in or on the periphery of church life.

Now by outrightly rejecting the idea of marriage equality as the EANI are they also condemning those in the church who are LGBT to a lifetime of singleness without love, or into a marriage with someone they are not attracted to (damaging to two people long term and their family). In doing this are they also condemning love that those individuals may find how can this be good for the wellbeing and welfare of those in families that they claim they want to help.

I have been to a number of funerals in churches in recent years where one of the children of the family and their same-sex partner have been present. Some of these churches are members of the EANI, they are there to offer support to the whole family even the gay child and their partner (whether in a civil partnership or not). This is looking after those LGBT church members and those on the fringe support for their well being and welfare, yet somehow the church wants to continue to fail them day to day on the matter of love.

However, single people in the church after they reach a certain age are always getting asked by the church who and when they are going to marry. There is pressure from well meaning church members to pair up to both spinsters and bachelors at least while they are still in their 30s and 40s to pair up. Yet when you are gay and get asked are you not married yet, the fact that the true reason is because you’re not allowed to be married here, is liable to draw a mixture of reactions.

I say mixture as unlike what Mr Smyth ascertains there is not outright condemnation of marriage equality. There are people within the churches even here in Northern Ireland who feel for those LGBT people that they know in person and their inability to be treated equally in this regard.

So while it may be a concerning day for some when equal marriage was brought in throughout England and Wales:

  1. It is not condemned outrightly by all in Northern Irish churches
  2. Polygamous marriage is a separate issue and not solely a subject for bisexuality so should not be used as an argument against for monogamous same-sex marriages.
  3. If you are really concerned about families and their members wellbeing and welfare support equal love and let them marry the person they love, not condemn them to hatred and denial of support.

1Spalding, L. R., & Peplau, L. A. (1997). The unfaithful lover: heterosexuals’ perceptions of bisexuals and their relationships. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 611-625.

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Response to the TUV statement regarding Sexual Orientation Stategy

Jim Allister as his usual cheerful self in Stormont

Today Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) have issued a statement about the long overdue consultation by OFMDFM on a Sexual Orientation Strategy.

There are four points that I wish to make to the TUV.

1. The majority of LGBT people in Northern Ireland are probably from a protestant, unionist, loyalist background in line with the general population. Therefore they are not all in Sinn Féin’s pocket. However, we at LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland respect the work that Sinn Féin have done in helping get Green MLA Steven Agnew’s proposal for Equal Marriage into a debate at Stormont back in October 2011. We also are happy to work with the SDLP, Alliance and NI21 as well as any other political grouping that recognises that the LGBT people here do have needs and concerns that cannot simply be brushed under the carpet (as the DUP and TUV would seem to want to do).

2. If we had enough protection for LGBT people in Northern Ireland young LGBT people would not be kicked out of taxis, others would not be forced out of their housing by community pressure (just as racist and sectarian abuse still exists), you would also see open signs of affection in public from LGBT couples just as you do from straight couples. Look around you and you will see hand holding and kissing all the time in Belfast between couples of opposite sex, but if you know a same-sex couple watch them when they are in public.

3. The very fact that TUV ignore the fact that there are health access and attainment issues, as well as bullying at secondary education level (note their woreding) that LGBT people are far from acheiving shows that this strategy is across a number of areas that they fail to recognise as significant and needed.

4. Their final point draws attention to the fact that thinks aren’t equal, countering the “special pleading” that they talk about in paragraph 2.

While we respect the rights of TUV to hold traditional views whenever those views are to the detriment of any group in Northern Ireland, especially one that unlike others is still almost as likely to go elsewhere to feel comfortable as they did during the troubles.

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Northern Ireland only part of UK without equal marriage

This evening the Scottish Parliament voted 105 for 18 against for the final stage of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. It is far more inclusive of the whole LGBT community than the legislation that passed through Westminster last year. It has removed the spousal veto for transgender individuals and also allowed for gender neutral ceremonies for intersex individuals to be able to marry the person they love.

It is as great result for the people of Scotland and shows that by taking their time and consulting more widely than any other piece of legislation that Scotland can get this key issue right. It even has protections for those who object, who for belief reasons do not wish to carry out, or for their organisation to carry out same-sex marriages. There is a full opt in for any faith group or person of faith.

The one thing that this does mean is that my the end of this year when same-sex couples can marry in Scotland, England or Wales the LGBT community of Northern Ireland will face yet another discrimination based on them having a BT postcode.

Unlike giving blood where MSM who have abstained from male sex for 12 months can go to Britain to give blood, or with adoption where same-sex couples can adopt elsewhere and return to the Northern Ireland and still be a family, and same-sex marriage carried out elsewhere will only be considered a civil partnership when they return here.

This is one discrimination that the LGBT community of Northern Ireland cannot get around by seeking to benefit from the service elsewhere in the UK. Sure people can get married elsewhere, but that marriage will not be recognised when they come back to Northern Ireland. That marriage may even if the couple want it have a religious significance in a faith group that is willing to marry them, but when they return to Northern Ireland a place that we are told has a strong faith, that faith element will be ignored and they will only have gone through a civil experience.

While Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance, NI21  and Green parties are all in favour of equal here in Northern Ireland. The DUP, UUP along with the sole TUV and UKIP MLAs hold the key. Yet these “so called” unionist politicians have with one exception voted against allowing the same marriage rights as the rest of the UK will soon benefit from. They are denying the full Britishness of one section of Northern Ireland’s community, and they are denying it en masse.

The Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats will continue to apply pressure on these Unionist representatives to recognise the fact that they are now denying protestant, loyalist and unionist people who are LGBT their British identity. A British identity that elsewhere would allow them to marry and should have that marriage recognised anywhere in the UK.

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The year ahead for Northern Ireland’s LGBT community

So we are now in 2014 so what can the LGBT community in Northern Ireland expect to happen.

Firstly here at LGBT+ Lib Dems Northern Ireland we want to congratulate Stephen Glenn on getting elected to the LGBT+ Liberal Democrat Exec. It is one of the most geographically diverse execs that Plus has ever had and will ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom are recognised and none are left behind. Past execs will have known Stephen and others from Northern Ireland reminding them that there is still work to do here on so many issues. So if you aren’t currently a member of LGBT+ Lib Dems but are a party member you can sign up, they will be working for you here in Northern Ireland.

Firstly of course we know that from 29th March some marriages from elsewhere in the UK will not be recognised here in Northern Ireland. On that date the first same-sex marriages will take place in England and Wales, but should those couples then move here or visit here their marriage will be downgraded to a civil partnership. This will be true even if their marriage was carried out by one of the religious groups that is looking to be able to do so from that date. Therefore their religious ceremony will not only be downgraded from a marriage to a partnership, but also from a religious ceremony to a civil one. Can you imagine the outcry of Northern Irish Christians if they were told that their church marriages were only to be recognised by the civil requirements within that ceremony and not as a act before God?

We also have the latest round of appeals against the MSM (men who have had sex with men) blood ban. Last week both Edwin Poots The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety DHSSPS and Jeremy Hunt Department of Heath (Westminster version) have announced they will be appealing Mr Justice Treacy’s ruling from last year. The Stormont Department are appealing the whole ruling, whereas their Westminster conterparts are only appealing the bit where because off the irrational approach from Stormont importing GB blood from any source that the decision should be returned to Westminster.

Having been promised it by the end of 2012 and then my the end of 2013 nobody has yet seen hide nor hair of the sexual orientation strategy. Late last year Sinn Féin intimated that they were prepared to publish this on behalf of OFMdFM but that the DUP had been delaying things. Will it appear in 2014? Also will there be an updated version of Cohesion, Sharing and Intregration (CSI)? Bearing in mind that CSI was criticised for ignoring most of the areas that needed cohesion, sharing and integration and dealt many with the past and sectarianism, the issues at the heart of the recent Haass talks this is a sensitive matter.

We will also wait and see how the publication of the Adoption and Children’s Bill, which we expect sometime before the summer recess, reflects October’s judicial review on the subject of unmarried and same-sex couples ability to adopt here. However, like the long promised sexual orientation strategy this Bill has been long promised and long delayed from publication. If it fails to take into consideration the points raised in the judicial review that it was in the best interests of the children to extent the range of people who could adopt.It did not affect children negatively who eventually adopts them, what does affect them is the length of them they fail to be found adoptive parents, and here is where Northern Ireland lags behind.

There is one final event this year which may have an impact on LGBT issues here, if not during the next twelve months possibly in the future: that is the referendum in Scotland. Most of the protestant, unionist, loyalist ancestry of that population in Northern Ireland actually stems from Scotland, not England and Wales. So what if Scotland were to vote yes to independence? How does that affect the calls for Northern Ireland to remain part of the continuing UK? It could be argued that the tie no longer exists, don’t forget that the unionist population make a great amount of capital out of being Ulster Scots. So does that mean Northern Ireland should become united with Scotland, or will the nationalist make the point that we now have most in common with the rest of our own island? There are ramifications here that most in Northern Ireland haven’t thought about or for that matter come to the logical conclusions off.

Firstly on blood, marriage and adoption we need to get Northern Irish Ministers to fully recognise all aspects of minorities as section 75.  Also we need to get the media and politicians over the fact that the blood ban is against actively gay men giving blood. It is not, we are merely looking for the same conditions that exist in the rest of the UK a twelve month deferral. This allows men who have in the past had a sexual encounter (even just once and safely) from joining the blood pool; they may well have been married to a women for over 20 years (who is also excluded from giving blood due to his past history).  However, I think the most important thing that the people of Northern Ireland don’t yet realise is that the Northern Ireland departments have been spending their tax revenue on so many irrational and what appear to be homophobic, but certainly anti-progressive, appeals to prevent equality for everyone in Northern Ireland with the rest of the union they espouse to hold so dear.

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109 days until Northern Ireland becomes less equal

The Westminster equalities Minister, Maria Miller,  has today announced that the first same-sex marriage in England and Wales will be able to take place on 29th March.

While this is a welcome step it is also going to be a sad day for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. While our brothers and sisters in England and Wales will be able to benefit from this march towards equality here we will not benefit. Firstly and most obviously the DUP have lead the campaign to oppose any introduction of marriage equality here and have threatened that even if a majority of MLAs were to vote in favour that they would introduce a petition of concern which they alone would block on a whipped vote. It is to be noted that in Westminster and Holyrood that all the votes there of the major parties have been a free vote.

Of course the other way in which Northern Ireland’s LGBT community will become less equal after 29th March is that even if a same-sex couple were to be married elsewhere in the UK, should they move to Northern Ireland after the ceremony their marriage would not be recognised as a marriage but only as a civil partnership, even if that marriage were to be carried out by a faith group and therefore not a secular act.

The Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland will continue to work with out colleagues in the Alliance Party, Greens, SDLP, Sinn Féin, NI21 and others who are still working on getting marriage equality into law here in Northern Ireland. We know we have a long march ahead of us yet, but then on issues of LGBT equality that is something that we as a community are too used to.

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On equal marriage Northern Ireland drifts behind as Scotland advances

Last night at Holyrood the Scottish Parliament voted 98 votes to 15 in favour of stage 1 of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. It is a clear majority supporting the progress going forward and there are only 5 others who abstained plus one current vacancy (as a result of the death Cowdenbeath MSP Helen Eadie). So the chances of later stages being derailed are slim.

The Scottish Bill is more consulted on than that of the one that went through the House of Commons and is quite clear on both individual and religious freedom, which made some of the anti comments during last night’s debate seem redundant. That fact that it does enable faith groups that want to carry out same-sex marriage to do so, while protecting the rights of those that don’t is a sign of true religious freedom.

Unlike in the previous two debates in Northern Ireland where we have had to rely on a 100% heterosexual chamber from debating this issue, in Holyrood as in Westminster there were personal recollections, of what it means to grow up LGBT in Scotland.

The Conservative leader in Scotland Ruth Davidson was the first, and drew on what it meant to be seen as different:

Last year, the University of Cambridge conducted a huge body of research called “The School Report”. The researchers spoke to hundreds of LGBT pupils from across the UK who were open about their sexuality. The majority said that they were the victims of homophobic bullying and that it happened to them in their schools. More than half of the respondents deliberately self-harmed. Nearly a quarter had attempted to take their own life on at least one occasion.

These are our children and they are made to feel so much guilt, shame and despair. We have an opportunity today to make it better for them. At the moment, we tell these young people, “You are good enough to serve in our armed forces. You are good enough to care in our hospitals. You are good enough to teach in our schools. But you are not good enough to marry the person you love and who loves you in return.” We tell them that they are something different, something less, something other, and that the dream and gold standard of marriage does not apply to them. They do not get to have it. That apartheid message, that “same but different” or alien quality, and that otherness is reflected in every hurtful comment, slander, exclusion and abuse, whether it takes place in the school playground, on the factory floor, or in the local pub.

Marco Biagi (who won the Edinburgh Central seat, I sought selection for, in 2011) said:

It will not come as a surprise to anyone that, when I was young and my classmates started to notice girls, I started to notice boys. I was afraid. I looked at our society and I did not see myself looking back, whether in our institutions, such as marriage, in what was regarded in public debate at the time as good and moral, or even in how our society portrayed itself in fiction, in which any representation of same-sex attraction made the subject matter adult, to be ranked alongside pornography and violence. When all that I saw or knew of gay people was Julian Clary, Kenneth Williams or Graham Norton, I—a boy from a chip shop in Dunbartonshire—did not see myself. I could only conclude that I was different from normal and that what I was was less deserving as a result.

Today, this chamber can add a new tile to the great interlocking mosaic of our society that has been built up steadily, one piece at a time, since the Wolfenden report of 1957. Same-sex marriage will not be the last piece to be added to that mosaic. The bill is not the finished article, not least for the transgendered, but today we can further build a picture of our society that generations of young people to come can look at and see themselves in.

He went on to reveal something else he and me had in common:

If we were to vote down the bill, who would we be to say that the understanding of the sacrament of marriage held by other faiths that do not share that view should be allowed and the views of the Quakers and Unitarians should be forbidden unless we somehow believed that same-sex relationships were intrinsically different, wrong and worthy of legal prescription?

I cannot bring myself to believe that any member subscribes to that view, but I will tell members a secret: I did once. The shame of those days has now given way to a shame that I fought those feelings for such a long time. Sadly, I know too many who still fight them—people young and old whose lives are a daily denial. I do not have to imagine how it feels to live like that because I remember it.

The Green MSP Patrick Harvie talked about the nonsense of some of the arguments against the bill:

Members might be a little surprised that my personal circumstances place me in what I regard as impeccably neutral territory on the issue: I am single, I am bisexual, I have no idea whether I will have a long-term relationship with a man or a woman in future and I have no idea whether I would want to get married. Certainly, I do not personally regard marriage as a gold standard; I regard it as one of the many options on family status that people will make a choice between on the basis of their values and not the values that we would impose on them.

The arguments that we have heard against the bill have been many and varied. Some have been frankly spurious and silly, such as the one that goes, “Well, you know, you can get married already, just to somebody of the opposite sex.” I cannot believe how frequently I have heard that nonsensical and demeaning argument.

Some arguments have been mischievous. There have been deliberate attempts to whip up ungrounded fears about ministers in the Church of Scotland being dragged off by the police, taken to the courts and prosecuted for refusing to marry same-sex couples.

Some of the arguments against the legislation have simply been curious, such as the view that, from the starting point of religious freedom, the law ought to tell churches who they may not be allowed to marry. It seems to me that the argument for religious freedom must be in favour of what the Government is trying to achieve with the bill, which is to permit but not compel.

Some arguments against the legislation are serious and we should not ignore them—quite the contrary. There has been serious opposition to pretty much every step that has been taken in the equalities story over many generations. Certain voices have opposed every step towards LGBT equality, from decriminalisation onwards. Those serious arguments absolutely must not be ignored but must be confronted and defeated because they assert, whether in religious or other terms, the lesser worth, dignity, status or value of LGBT people and our relationships. Those arguments should and deserve to be defeated. In more than 20 years of volunteering, working or campaigning on many of those issues, I have in all honesty never heard a coherent moral argument in favour of the view that same-sex relationships are of lesser worth or status or that they are morally wrong. I have heard many such arguments rooted in homophobia but none in a coherent moral case.

Sadly of course no Liberal Democrat MSP could speak from personal opinion as Margaret Smith and Iain Smith (not related) both lost their seats in 2011. But Jim Hume did make a good speech, speaking of the Liberal democrats support of this as party policy, and also made a telling comment about those who feared churches facing prosecution:

I emphasise that the religious body must be willing. I know that there are concerns that religious bodies, whatever their denomination, might be forced on human rights grounds to marry people whom they do not want to marry, but I simply do not buy that. I am aware of churches that would not marry opposite-sex couples, for example because the couple were not regular attenders. I know of no case in which such a couple would take a church to court; they would simply go to a church that was happy enough to sanctify their relationship. I cannot envisage a same-sex couple having any joy in taking a religious body to court on human rights grounds. It is worth noting that the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission support the bill.

There is some more passage through stages in Holyrood before this Bill becomes and Act and law but it was a promising start last night. But the fact remains that here in Northern Ireland one party is holding the key to achieving this level of equality. One party that claims that our Britishness is worth protecting above everything else. Yet is denying the LGBT community here just that level of Britishness.

As I mentioned above and as Jim Hume pointed out there are ways to ensure that churches are not forced either in law or through the courts from having to marry people they don’t want to. As Jim Hume points out this already happens in a number of places. Scotland like Northern Ireland and unlike England and Wales does not have a state church that has to marry anyone in the parish that asks. But in bringing about a change in civil marriage it is only equitable that restrictions are also lifted on faith groups, while at the same time not forcing anything on them.

As this debate was called several times during its progress it was a mature debate for a young legislative body. It is a pity that some elements of the somewhat “younger” Northern Ireland assembly seem to act only with immaturity, ignoring facts, public opinion and what is happening in the world at large when it comes to LGBT equality.

On a final note there was a survey of 5,500 people mentioned during the debate that had some interesting findings. Of those who identified as Catholic 55% had not objection to same-sex marriage, of Presbyterians this was 50%, with 21% and 25% opposed respectively. It shows that even in the two big denominations in Scotland there is not a majority against, indeed the opposite. But like in Northern Ireland as we have seen through our representatives and how they vote the Catholic community appear to be slightly ahead of the protestants when it comes to acceptance of the LGBT community, one which of course straddles that divide in Northern Ireland.

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Tom Buchanan’s disgraceful message to young people

The DUP have an attraction to only one of the Old Testement abominations. You never hear them speaking out against (amongst others):

  • Eating things from the river or sea that don’t have fins (i.e. lobster, prawns) Leviticus 11: 12
  • Or Ostrich burgers Leviticus 11: 16
  • Those who are greedy for gain Jeremiah 6: 13-15
  • Women wearing things that pertain to men, or men dressing as women Deuteronomy 22: 5
  • Haughty eyes, lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, hearts that devise wicked plans, feet that run hastily to evil, false witnesses (not looking at you Edwin Poots), those who show discord among brothers (not looking at those leaflets in East Belfast late last year) Proverbs 6: 16-19
  • Those who have committed abomination with their neighbour’s wife Ezekiel 22: 11

Speaking of which we end up talking about the wife of the First Minister.

When Iris Robinson at the time still the MP and MLA for Strangford said on Radio Ulster that homosexuality was an abomination she was quite rightly rebuked from many sectors of the Northern Irish community. However, it appears that DUP elected repesentatives have not learned.

Today we learn that last week Tom Buchanan, DUP MLA for West Tyrone, during a NI Assembly Let’s Talk event aimed at school children, in response to a question on homosexuality and marriage equality. He is reported as saying homosexuality ‘isn’t right’ but then went further to say it was ‘an abomination’. Whilst some of the assembly school children applauded the majority voiced their approval.

This sort of comment aimed at young people shows the need for the long overdue Sexual Orientation Strategy as well as the need for an education policy that recognises LGBTQ young people go to school in Northern Ireland and prevents bullying or casting them aside. Indeed we have done for many years and generation and have often come up against all sorts of barriers to being open about who we are.

Mr Buchanan had no idea if any LGBTQ young people were in that meeting, nor does he have any idea as to the mental state that any of them might be in. Speaking from personal experience at that sort of age I didn’t like myself for my own sexual orientation because of the reinforcing behaviour of politicians, church leaders etc around me at the time. At times the sense that Northern Ireland was rejecting me lead me to contemplate suicide. Therefore this sort of comments still coming from public officials, into a company of young and potentially some questioning teenagers who many not have the support network either in their school, or amongst their peers could be potentially damaging.

One thing that I am glad about is that the majority of Mr Buchanan’s audience vocalised their disgust at what he had said. Which should mean that any LGBTQ young person who was present may have felt support from within the room. But what if one of those young people found themselves sitting amongst friends who were in that group who applauded.

While we respect Mr Buchanan’s right to speak in opposition to marriage equality he and others should think about the language that they use in doing so, the consequences that such language could have, especially in light of the age and potential insecurity of the audience.

LGBTQ young people in Northern Ireland are substantially more prone to self harm, or attempt to commit suicide. This is not because they are more mentally unstable but because they feel like outcasts and often that they are the only one. This is especially true in rural areas such as in Tyrone and Fermanagh where of the young people at this meeting came from.

If any young person was affected by what Mr Buchanan said and wants someone to talk to I would recommend GLYNI you can contact them through their website, or if it is urgent call Cara-Friend on 02890890202

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