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.