This afternoon Stephen Glenn, co-ordinator of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland, sat in the gallery of the Assembly while our MLAs debated the motion from the Green Party and Sinn Féin about marriage equality. He was not alone as a large number of equal marriage campaigners were there in the hope that the DUP’s petition of concern would prove to be the only way this motion could be defeated. Sadly it was defeated by four votes even without it.
Forty five of our MLAs did vote for it, one sole unionist voice, that of Basil McCrea spoke in favour despite saying “many in my community are deeply uneasy about it”. He went on to challenge those who said we cannot redefine marriage by pointing out that our state had in the past about many reformed groups including Presbyterians. Before saying something that pretty much summed up the concept of this motion:
“Allowing one group to use a word does not diminish its use by another, and the context will be understood by all. Society accepting equal marriage does not mean that everyone has to agree with the practice.”
However, one minister speaking in a ‘personal’ capacity said the motion was ‘pointless’ and a ‘worthless course to follow’. Another, who responsibility presenting the legislation would be said “I have no intention of bringing forward any legislation to this House to facilitate gay marriage” even before a democratic vote was taken on the issue to ask him to do so.
Speaking after the debate Stephen Glenn said:
“It was great to have this debate take place in Stormont today, it is sign that we have come a long way. I’d like to praise those MLAs and parties that have taken a stance today for equal marriage and the LGBT community, even though the votes did not go in favour. I know that many have come on a long journey both individually and collectively to stand beside the LGBT community today on this issue.
“However, it is sad that a Democratic Unionist Minister should state in his speech that he would fail to act even if a democratic vote, not then taken, asked him to on this matter. While another unionist minister considered it pointless and a worthless cause. This isn’t a sectarian issue despite the petition of concern and how the vote looked today, and I’d particularly like to thank Basil McCrae and his two party colleagues for their support in the division today.
“Bizarrely, after the Covenant celebrations, it seems the unionist side is less able to debate civil freedoms without religious overtones as those that feared Home Rule would bring a hundred years ago. So even though a motion on a tough issue managed to address civil and religious freedom for all it was knocked down. In the words of Mr Wilson they have chosen a road and are unable to facilitate, or even contemplate trying to facilitate other routes.
“However, with 45 MLAs voting for we know that the pendulum of political and public opinion has swung a fair way from previous debates on LGBT issues.”
Local party chair John O’Neill added:
“It is profoundly disappointing, to the NI Liberal Democrats, and to all the people of Northern Ireland, that the Assembly has voted to reject marriage equality. The agreements which instituted the Assembly, and from which its authority is derived, have at their heart equality of citizenship. Not just across the Unionist-Nationalist dyad, but across the whole of the increasingly diverse Northern Ireland, which we all celebrate.
“It is sad that the political representatives of the first nation within the United Kingdom to institute Civil Partnerships have today rejected the obvious next step in the full equalisation of same-sex relationships. However, we are confident that, as debate on this matter continues at Westminster, Cardiff and Holyrood, this is not the last time that this matter will be addressed at Stormont. We are confident also that our MLAs will look to the decisions made in other capitals of the UK, and will not impose second-class citizenship upon the Lesbian and Gay citizens of Northern Ireland.
“Meanwhile,we will continue to work to persuade others both in office and those who elect them to achieve our party’s policy on equal marriage here in Northern Ireland, as our colleagues do so elsewhere in the UK.”