Maybe the Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Paterson, has spent too much time in the presence of First Minister Peter Robinson and his DUP cohorts. Or maybe he was one of those very conservative Conservatives that David Cameron could foist upon Northern Ireland without upsetting the apple cart too much. Whatever the reason Mr. Paterson has become the first cabinet minister to speak out against the cabinet commitment to equal marriage.
In a letter to a constituent in his North Shropshire seat he wrote:
“Having considered this matter carefully, I am afraid I have come to the decision not to support gay marriage.
“However, the government is rightly committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and has already taken action to do so by allowing those religious premises that wish to carry out civil partnershipsto do so, erasing historic convictions for consensual gay sex and putting pressure on other countries that violate the human rights of LGBT people.
“The prime minister has made clear that he supports equal civil marriage and the government is rightly consulting widely on this issue before making any changes to the current position. I am worried that this will be a disappointing response.”
It is disappointing for those of us in Northern Ireland who are fighting for marriage equality to even be considered here in Northern Ireland, and for other LGBT equality issues that we are lagging behind the rest of the UK that the Westminster Government minister should say this. It could give the DUP a scapegoat to hide behind when they are pressured by other parties to look at various LGBT issues. They can say that not all Government ministers support the full slate of LGBT equality issues and not have to point any further than the Secretary of State’s office.
When Liberal Democrat ministers are taking a line of collective responsibility for decisions that can be upsetting our voters and are seen by some as a compromise it is a pity that Conservative government ministers cannot do the same. What is most upsetting is that under Labour we had a number of Secretaries of State who were willing to get under the cosiness of Northern Irish conservatism and shake things up a little for the political status quo. Now we have one that has given ammunition to that status quo to carry on in the area of LGBT inequality with his views.