Democratic in name alone #equalmarriage

Today is the morning after a momentous day.

For the first time ever a majority of Northern Irish legislators in either a Westminster or Stormont vote have actually voted in favour of some step towards LGBT+ equality. Yes with 53 in favour and 51 against yesterday the rights of LGBT+ individuals reached a tipping point as never before.

Sadly of course this tipping point also simultaneously gave Northern Ireland an unwelcome entry into the record books. The Assembly yesterday became the first Legislature in the World to vote in favour of marriage equality while simultaneously blocking the same Legislature from progressing that equality measure. The reason of course if the so called “Democratic” Unionist Party (DUP).

In the past the DUP have argued that there was a need for a petition of concern because there was not majority support for marriage equality within the general population. This of course is not an opinion that has been borne out in independent scientific polling evidence in recent years.

Now their Chief Whip the North Down MLA Peter Weir says:

“If it requires a process of attrition to alter a result it does not demonstrate a great deal of force behind the argument.”

However, that is not the case through history. A process of attrition led to the abolition of slavery. Rights for workers. Votes for women. Non conformist emancipation from the established church. Devolution/Home Rule for (Northern) Ireland and Scotland. Civil rights for Jews, Blacks and Roman Catholics and indeed the legalisation of homosexuality. The fact that Peter Weir uses that argument against yesterday’s vote in the NI Assembly shows an ignorance of political history and disrespect of how minorities have always had to get their place as equals recognised by those with privilege.

The DUP are not Democratic, yesterday they have blocked progress a mantra of their newest MLA Emma Pengilly. She is in quite a different position from the UUP’s newest MLA Andy Allen who not only was the only of his party to vote in favour but also made an excellent speech laying out his position.

Yesterday was a morale victory which the LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland and their families and friends will have to remember when if comes to the ballot in the next year for a new Assembly. It also means that the DUP have given additional strength to the argument for a judicial review into the unequal state of marriage across the UK and island of Ireland. Now it is not being blocked by a majority vote in the Assembly but by a Petition of Concern being used to keep a minority less equal.

To all those MLAs who have come along a journey on the five votes in the Assembly we want to say thank you. We know you have been getting a lot of emails and letters from both sides of this debate and taken your time to weigh up what is right. It has not been attrition but good old fashioned lobbying, something that is a democratic right of the people in our nation to ask their representative for a fair and honest hearing of their views. Sadly it is a part of grown up politics that the DUP do not seem to acknowledge but it is something that Northern Ireland needs as we move forward.

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Filed under Equal Marriage, equality, history, law, NI Assembly

The DUP hive response to next weeks #equalmarriage vote

We have been monitoring social media and we know that not all of those we have seen have asked the DUP the same question about the vote on equal marriage in a week’s time on 2nd November.

Indeed our our co-ordinator, Stephen Glenn, actually asked those of his MLAs who had concerns that they felt the need to sign a petition of concern to tell him about them. Stephen as many may be aware was actually working at bringing about marriage equality before such things as civil partnerships were invented by a Labour Government. He was heavily involved in the Scottish Liberal Democrats being the first part of the Federal Party passing policy on this (before the 2010 General Election), part of that was coming up with a very simple form of words to recognise that not all faith groups have the same view on equal marriage.

However, no matter how you have addressed your issue in support of equal marriage, to whichever DUP MLA(s) represent you it is clear that all questions, all emails, all letters are being responded to with this form of words.

Thank you for your e mail. I would however indicate that the position of the DUP has not changed on this issue, and we will be voting against the motion.

Yeah apparently every member of the DUP is able to speak for every single other member of the party on this issue.

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Mike Nesbitt and the wrong side of history

You can probably lose count of the number of times that politicians say they have got into politics so that they can do the “right thing”. It is a noble objective an although you may disagree with how they define the right thing you would expect them when they know what the right thing is to head that way and do it.

It is therefore a little shocking the line his speech and subsequent comments that Mike Nesbitt made in his speech yesterday at the Ulster Unionist conference about same sex marriage. Yesterday he said:

“We also need to think about the cold spot that is how we are perceived by members of the LGB&T community. What if it was your son? Your daughter? What would you want for them? What would you offer them? I hope the answer is Unconditional Love.

“Some of us support same sex marriage, some do not, and it’s part of the beauty of the Ulster Unionist Party that we can respect each other’s positions.

“I shall not labour the point today, but to those of us who cannot bring ourselves to support same sex marriage, I say this – we are on the wrong side of history. There is a new generation coming and they simply do not understand why there is a problem.”

Sorry Mike this doesn’t really get you out of that cold spot. Indeed the comment you made subsequently such as the ones broadcast on Sunday Politics that reflect that you will not be changing you own vote on 2 November, but that you don’t want this decisions on equality to be left up to the courts seem to sink you deeper into the frost.

How can you expect these decisions not to be left up to the courts when you aren’t prepared to vote for the “right side of history”? If you yourself seem unwilling to move on this issue will any of the others in your party move? The new generation is aware of how you party have largely followed the DUP on this issue. The protestant, unionist or loyalist section of the LGBT+ community and their families look at the stance that you and the UUP have taken on this issue making it look like a sectarian issue.

With the DUP’s constant placing a petition of concern on any debate on same sex marriage the fact that the Nationalist vote in the 90%+ level for and Unionist vote equally against makes them wonder where is there voice. Your answer to them in your speech yesterday was not unconditional love, you continue to place a condition upon that love, you say that civil partnerships are enough for you be happy with that, Marriage is only for a man and a women.

Yet Mike is wanting those people to come to him with unconditional support, when he denies them the unconditional love of which he talks about.

I have been to many of the marriage equality demonstrations over the years and the people there are as diverse in their background as the people of the UK. The biggest moan I hear is where is the unionist voices that are talking for unionist LGBT+ individuals in the Assembly. Yes they have strong voices in the PUP, but they are not in the Assembly where they can affect change.

Mike Nesbitt continues to stand on the wrong side of history but yesterday was trying to reach out to those who will judge what side he and his party were on. Sadly for him the people he was trying to entice don’t have short memories, nor will they forget what side of history the majority of unionism stood on this issue.

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Filed under Equal Marriage, equality, Stormont

Oh happy [joyous/gleeful/gay] day!

Today is a great day for marriage equality even if it related to two court cases.

First in Belfast the High Court gave the go ahead for the judicial review into the ban on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland going ahead. It is the first step of a long process. Seeing as some of the politicians on the hill and in a few of our council chambers are refusing to budge on this issue yet again the LGBT+ community of Northern Ireland have had to lean on the will of the courts once again.

Meanwhile in Washington the US Supreme Court has ruled that equal marriage is a constitutional right that should extend to all fifty states.

This latest verdict takes away one of the lynchpins of DUP opposition. There was always the argument that the largest nation in the free world did not have equal marriage across the whole nation so the UK did not have to do likewise. Well that has now changed and with the exception of Germany who like Northern Ireland have the largest party a union of fundamentalist Christians the rest of the Western World is now moving towards marriage equality.

Peter Lynas will no doubt to continue to argue that we should call Northern Ireland a backwater on the issue of marriage equality. But when your list of nations to compare us to now is largely Eastern Europe, Africa (where some want to lock up or kill all the LGBT community) and China. It is hardly the company that civilised society should aim to be keeping.

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Ashers found to have discriminated

Today the full judgement of in the case of Gareth Lee v Ashers Baking Co. Limited, Daniel McArthur and Karen McArthur was handed down in court.

In her judgement Judge Brownlie found that the company and the McArthurs directly discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of religious belief and/or political opinion [paragraph 66].That Daniel and Karen McArthur directly discriminated against Mr Lee on the ground of his sexual orientation [para 46] because they had the knowledge or perception that Mr Lee was gay and/or associated with others who were [para 39]

She also stated that the company were not a religious organisation but a business existing for profit and therefore not exempt from the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.

In concluding she made the following finding:

[93]  This compelling analysis of the necessity of the Human Rights and Equality jurisprudence articulates all I could have hoped to say albeit not so fluently to demonstrate that the law must protect all. It must protect the rights of the Defendents to have and to manifest their religious beliefs but it also recognises that the rights of the Plaintiff not to be discriminated because of his sexual orientation.

If the Plaintiff was a gay man who ran a bakery business and the Defendants as Christians wanted him to bake a cake with the words “support heterosexual marriage” the Plaintiff would be required to do so as, otherwise; he would, according to the law be discriminated against the Defendants. This is not a law which is for one belief only but is equal to and for all.

The Defendants are entitled to continue to hold their genuine and deeply held religious beliefs and to manifest them but, in accordance with the law, not to manifest them in the commercial sphere if it is contrary to the rights of others

Speaking of the decision Northern Ireland’s representative on the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Executive Stephen Glenn said:

“This ruling shows the importance of the Human Rights Act and the equality legislation as it currently stands in striking a balance between the rights and responsibilities of conflicting opinions and beliefs. Something that our party has already stood up against the erosion of by the current Westminster government.

“It also champions the rights of LGBT+ individuals to be treated equally under the law as anyone else. We are not seeking to have special rights merely the same rights to go about perfectly legal activities without fear of someone denying us goods, facilities or services.

“While I hope this is the end of this particular matter, past experience is that Christian Institute backed cases of this type will be challenged to the nth degree through every level of appeal. I personally wish for the sake of Daniel McArthur and his family that this added pressure, scrutiny and attention is not allowed to continue and further hurt and heap pressure on them.

“The Northern Liberal Democrats also fear the reaction to this ruling by some of our politicians. The statement of the Judge that “this is not a law which is for one belief only but is equal to and for all” is something that I hope Northern Ireland politicians heed. There is no need for a conscience clause, indeed implementing one would eventually also open up the rights of people who oppose the views of people with genuine, deeply held faith to exercise their conscience.”

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Filed under Human Rights, law, Uncategorized

Jim Wells resigns as Health Minister

It is often said that a week is a long time in politics, today it would appear a weekend is a similarly long period for the Northern Ireland health department.

As recently as Saturday after the first calls that the NI Health Minister, Jim Wells, should resign because of comments he made in a hustings on Thursday evening he was adamant that he would not be stepping down as Health Minister.

Yesterday in an article in one of the Sunday newspapers there was the revelation that on top of his wife’s recent health issues he himself had been diagnosed with narcoplesy.

However, news yesterday also appeared that Jim Wells while out canvassing in Rathfriland has taken offence to a lesbian couples lifestyle on their doorstep before, as with the hustings, he tried to go back allegedly to apologise. This latest incident is under police investigation.

It appears that overnight he had approached Peter Robinson to tender his resignation which was formerly announced at 7:00am.

His time as health minister had continued to follow the ill informed objections to LGBT and abortion issues of his predecessor. The DUP say that they will announce his successor on 11th May.

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Jim Wells’ comments in last night’s hustings

Firstly all of those at LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland want to say we are glad to have read the news in the Belfast Telegraph the other day that Mrs Grace Wells is recovering from the rare condition that affected her a short while ago. We wish her all the best in the future and understand the strain this may have put Jim Wells under.

However, if he was really under a lot of stress looking after his wife it should surely have been grounds for him not to put himself under further stress on top of being an MLA and Health Minister to seek election to Westminster. We are putting this up front as Jim Wells in a statement issued last night (see below) mentioned personal stress in recent weeks.

It is this series of comments from last night’s hustings in South Down that has brought this to a head:

Jim Wells

The comments can be viewed in video clips online.

Must horrifying of all with a raucous crowd to the last part about abuse, he immediately sets out to repeat his comments as clarification that he had said them and wanted them to be heard

The last of the sequence is that one that caused the uproar but comments have been made by members of the DUP that they have been taken out of context to the early comments about haranguing Christians and being insatiable lead up to the one about abuse of children by those in homosexual relationships.

There are over 1,200 children currently in care in Northern Ireland as the result of being victims of abuse. Is Mr Wells therefore saying that over 600 of these are from the result of having two carers of the same sex? Note we did not say parents as currently he is not allowing same-sex couples to adopt here despite a court ruling that the law should be changed to allow this. The facts of course are that very few of those children are there as a result of same-sex parents from come from homes with a father and mother involved in their upbringing.

In context of course Mr Wells had previously said that all who took part in Pride were repugnant, this was long before his wife’s current illness.

Mr Wells comments about abuse also seem to flow his comments about the victim of a rape who becomes pregnant in 2014 he said:

“That is a tragic and difficult situation but should the ultimate victim of that terrible act [rape] – which is the unborn child – should he or she also be punished for what has happened by having their life terminated? No.”

There seems to be no realisation that the ultimate victim of any unwanted sexual encounter is the woman who has suffered. It is her body that has been violated, her emotions that have become distraught, her rights that have been abused. It leads to the question does the Health Minister really understand abuse in any situation.

Mr Wells also during the break between the first debate and vote on equal marriage in Stormont was in front of one of members, whom he had meet before, in the restaurant. When the member said hello and was about to ask how his wife and family were, was shunned by Mr Wells with the comment “Oh, you’re one of them!” before he turned heel and ended the civil on the part of our member’s conversation.

Here is Mr Wells’ response after the hustings debate last night:

“The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for me personally. I had just come from a hospital visit and my focus was not on the debate. Indeed, during the event I received several messages from the hospital.

“I have listened to a recording of the relevant part of the debate. I accept that one line of what I said caused offence and deep concern amongst members of the audience and beyond. I regret having wrongly made that remark about abuse and I’m sorry those words were uttered. The comment did not reflect my view nor that of my party.

“Within seconds of realising this error, I asked the Chairman to let me back in and twice corrected my remarks before the debate moved on. This clarification has been confirmed by the journalists present at the event. Partial clips, spin and selective reporting regrettably miss this.

“The neglect or abuse of children is awful and happens in unstable relationships whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. I make no distinction between anyone who neglects or abuses a child regardless of their sexual orientation. I trust people will accept my explanation and my apology.”

If we give Mr Wells the benefit of the doubt over the first sentence we would like to ask why has he made the past few weeks and next couple even more difficult for himself by standing for election in another legislature at this difficult personal time. Clearly this thought wasn’t to the forefront of his mind when he signed the papers allowing himself to be nominated as the DUP candidate for South Down.

But on the matter of an issue such as abuse which falls under his Health and Social Care remit he should surely be aware of the sensitive nature of his comments and the facts about the situation here in Northern Ireland. While he has the right to say he is opposed to same-sex marriage he does not have the right to make up statistics, facts and vilify every lesbian, gay or bisexual person in Northern Ireland in doing so.

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Filed under Equal Marriage, Health, NI Assembly, Westminster, young people

What does the Liberal Democrat Manifesto say about LGBT issues?

Here is what the LIberal Democrat manifesto has to say about LGBT issues:

A fair society should treat its citizens equally and with dignity. In this Parliament, thanks to Liberal Democrats in government, there have been key advances in the fight for equality – like introducing same-sex marriage and banning age discrimination. But we must continue our work to fight prejudice and discrimination based on race, age, religion or belief, gender, sexuality, and disability. We will enact the remaining unimplemented clauses of the Equality Act 2010

To promote equality in relationships and for LGBT+ individuals, we will:

  • Give legal rights and obligations to cohabiting couples in the event of relationship breakdown or one partner dying without a will.
  • Permit humanist weddings and opposite sex civil partnerships, and liberalise the rules about the location, timing and content of wedding ceremonies.
  • Support schools to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination, and to establish a tolerant and inclusive environment for all their pupils. We will remove schools’ exemption from the bar on harassment in these areas while protecting the right to teach about religious doctrine.
  • Promote international recognition of same sex marriages and civil partnerships as part of a comprehensive International LGBT Rights Strategy that supports the cause of decriminalising homosexuality in other countries.
  • Seek to pardon all those with historic convictions for consensual homosexual activity between adults.
  • Enhance the experience of all football fans by making homophobic chanting a criminal offence, like racist chanting.
  • Ask the Advisory Committee on Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs periodically to review rules around men who have sex with men donating blood to consider what restrictions remain necessary.

We also take our responsibility as an internationalist party seriously and also say the following.
Liberal Democrats believe British foreign policy and international aid should seek to advance human rights and democracy throughout the world. We believe all people – regardless of ethnicity, disability, age, belief, gender or sexual orientation – deserve a freer, fairer and more prosperous world.
We will:

  • Develop a comprehensive strategy for promoting the decriminalisation of homosexuality around the world, and advancing the cause of LGBT+ rights.

While we appreciate that the party are not standing here in Northern Ireland and therefore have not laid out specific Northern Ireland policies the above lays out the ethos that the Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland will also work towards as well as the various inequalities we currently experience with the rest of the UK and indeed the rest of Ireland.

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Summary of the Ashers court case

Today ended the third day of the court case of Gareth Lee v Ashers Ltd. in Laganside Court Belfast. A good source of in court reporting was the Tweets of Belfast Telegraph Deborah McAleese. It is largely from there that we have pulled the following facts from the proceedings.

The facts of the purchase:

The first thing to note is that the order was placed at the Royal Avenue branch of Ashers six stores. For those who do not know Belfast this is the main shopping street in Belfast City Centre. The store is only slightly down the road on the other side of the street from Tesco and the Castle Court shopping centre is across the street on the other side. This location is also less than 5 minutes walk from the LGBT Centre on Waring Street where Queer Space who were ordering the cake and Gareth Lee was based, also Gareth had used them many times before, which ought to shut up conspiracy theorists.

The order was talked about with Karen McArthur, the mother of the general manager and herself a director of the company. She did not tell Mr Lee that there would be any issues with the cake but took full payment along with the order. There was no design work having to be done by Ashers as the artwork was provided with the order.

The cake was to have the name of the campaign organisation Queen Space and the message Support Gay Marriage. No mention of Ashers on the cake.

There was a leaflet displaying Ashers cake service which the members of the McArthur family admitted doesn’t mention any limitations to graphics that can be provided.

The evidence of Karen McArthur

She said she knew in her heart at the time she took the order that the company could not complete the order. She said that the reason she did not tell Mr Lee this at the time was because she didn’t want to embarrass him or cause a confrontation in the shop.

The reason Mrs McArthur knew she would be unable to complete the order was the message was contrary to her Christian belief. However, he also acknowledged that they leaflet also carried pictures of a Halloween cake with witches on it.

She also when asked, “Do you not think you should have immediately told Mr Lee (the order would not be fulfilled)?” she replied no.

The evidence of Daniel McArthur

The son and managing director, admitted that after the issue was brought to his attention he raised it with a elder in his church for his view. He also admitted that he had never really thought about the witch imagery being contrary to the same Christian belief, though said he was unaware of that image being on the leaflet as another member of staff had designed it. However, it was pointed out to him in court that the literature had been available for about 2 years.

He also said “We doing it in defiance of the law. Before God it’s not something we could do.” in relation to turning down the order.

The conclusions

The lawyer for Ashers said that this wasn’t a case of sexual discrimination and that a heterosexual ordering the same cake would be turned away. But the lawyer for Mr Lee said that with the word gay on the cake and the messaging it was clearly intended for a group that would involve gay people and supported them, even if the plaintiff wasn’t, therefore it was indirect discrimination.

The lawyer for Mr Lee also said that the reason given in public by the McArthurs for their refusal was based on their religious views. And therefore it was impinging his political and sexual orientation rights. It was also he argued breaching contract law as the payment was taken upon the full conditions being expressed.

The lawyer for the McArthurs argued that they shouldn’t have to put a message they felt unable to endorse unto a cake, but the lawyer for Mr Lee claimed that they weren’t being asked to endorse the message and nobody would ask if the bakery had done on seeing the cake. He finished with the fact that once a barrister enters into a contract to represent someone he doesn’t necessarily have to agree with gay marriage to defend a client over their views of it.



Filed under Equal Marriage, equality, faith, Human Rights, law

Statement in support of Paul Finlay-Dickson

When somebody is grieving and in the run up to the death of a partner they deserve respect and understanding. But for Paul Finlay-Dickson and his late partner Maurice that was not to be. They were receiving threats and intimidation for being who they are in North Belfast, even while Maurice was going through the last years of his life with cancer.

Intimidation is wrong in every context.

Yet, it has been used in Northern Ireland too often to remove what one section of society considers are undesirable from their midst. We live in a society where our largest political party seem to continue a rhetoric that people are allowed to have objections to people who are LGBT. The problem is that this language leads to people thinking it is alright to intimidate their neighbours whose sexuality or gender story is different to their own.

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We call on other parties in Northern Ireland to seek the same so that such intolerance and fear is not propagated through our communities. The language our politicians use at times stirs up some sections against members of our society and more care is needed to promote tolerance and not objection to people who are different.


Filed under attacks, equality, safety