Category Archives: equality

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

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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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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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.

 

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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.

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Response to Conscience Clause Bill

Response to the consultation on the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill
on behalf of
Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats
and
LGBT+ Liberal Democrats

The following is the response of the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats, which was also endorsed by the UK-wide executive committee of LGBT+ Liberal Democtats on 17th February 2015, to the above consultation. In light of the fact that this response is being sent to the headquarters of just one of the Assembly parties and not to a Department as with most public consultations we have also sent copies to the other parties and individuals represented in both Stormont and Westminster.

Question 1 Do you believe that it would be appropriate to amend the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 as proposed in Appendix 1 to ensure that individuals are not put in a position where as a result of this legislation they are forced to choose between either acting in violation of their faith conscience, by affirming same-sex relationships, or losing their livelihood?

No

The Liberal Democrats believe that nobody should be enslaved by conformity. This consultation sets out only a limited definition of faith conscience and ignores those of faith who are supportive of LGBT members and indeed wish to carry out same-sex marriage. Therefore it is assuming all religious believe conforms to one way of thinking on the issues over sexual orientation and enslaves some faith groups, prohibiting their freedom of religion as an outworking of this clause and other actions taken to prevent greater equality in sexual orientation issues rather than their lessening as this clause lays out.

None of the same sex marriage legislation debated in Westminster, Holyrood or Stormont failed to recognise the fact that faith groups should have the decision in their own hands as to whether to affirm such same-sex relationships. Indeed this clause appears to be primarily, from the narrative that accompanies it, against legislation that the party of the member opposed which actually included an inbuilt conscience clause when being debated before the Assembly. It does not allow a freedom of religious conscience for faith groups who wish to carry out same sex marriages and are supportive of it the same freedom of conscience that it is placing on a narrow definition of “religious conscience”.

The fact that the Bill seeks to append this conscience clause only to sexual orientation regulations shows it is not a full religious conscience clause as it is only targeting one type of equality. Faith is already protected within the Equality Act and faith organisations and their related groups, unless they exist solely for commercial purposes are already exempt from the sexual orientation regulations.

Indeed as well as the exemptions stated in the Equality Act for religious organisations there are also already exemptions for religious organisation from portions of employment and tax law. The formation of law in this country has a long tradition of not impinging on religious organisations to operate in a different way to the rest of civic society.

Question 2 Is it appropriate that goods and services legislation should be applied in such a way that it narrows diversity and choice for service users who wish to access a service in the context of a faith/particular faith ethos?

Unsure (because of the very poor wording of the question)

The wording of this question seems to think that diversity and choice is narrowed for those of faith. As far as we are aware no store or service provider in Northern Ireland is allowed to turn away someone of faith. However, what this clause is seeking to do is allow people of a particular faith ethos to turn away people because of their same sex behaviour or belief in sexual orientation equality. Therefore the narrowing of diversity or choice is going to come if this clause impacts upon the Equality Act, something that does not currently exist.

The wording to allow the right to refuse the provision of goods, facilities or services that endorse, promote or facilitate behaviour or beliefs that conflict with strongly held religious beliefs is too wide an area with lack of clarity. Despite protestations from the author of the consultation’s explanation there are situations that this can be used as a means to discrimination.

The clause currently acts to narrow diversity and choice and will lead to an even further narrowing of diversity and choice, possibly even to the point of adverse impact on those it claims to be helping. By only allowing one type of conscience the right to determine what behaviour and beliefs it can refuse it is throwing the equality and protections open to every type of conscience which could lead to discrimination against those of faith, race or allow paedophiles, polygamists or white supremacists the right to exercise their conscience in what they believe to be right.

The reason the Equality Act was created was to ascertain equality to various groups, not the ability for any one of them to gain control over another. Protecting them all from extremes equally. By placing one way of thinking above another as this clause is setting out would be open to challenge from those that do have other world views, something which the courts are likely to uphold.

Question 3 As an example: a recent High Court Judgement means that Northern Ireland’s Catholic adoption agency will now be required to either be willing to act in violation of its faith identity by endorsing same-sex unions and facilitating gay adoption (which means surrendering their faith identity if they wish to continue as a provider), or to cease service provision. Do you think that gay rights are more important than religious rights such that the need to ensure gay couples can access adoption services from every provider should be pressed even when the consequence is to remove from Catholic couples the right to access a Catholic adoption service from anywhere? Is this the right balance or is there a better balance to be struck?

You ask three distinct questions in this question. So we shall have to answer them all separately as the answer, from you list of options, is not the same for all.

No, gay rights are not more important than religious rights but at the same time religious rights are not more important than LGBT rights.

However, when it comes to adoption the most important outcome is not who provides the service but that the child is swiftly moved through the system and placed in a permanent situation as soon as they are released for adoption. The fact that Northern Ireland trails the rest of the UK in both average time and number successfully placed within 12 months is a dire statistic. Maybe this is due to the diversity of provision for the approximately 100 placements a year to such a small population and even smaller potential placement population.

We think we need to look at streamlining adoption services here for the best outcome of the child and not be so hung up about which caring, loving couple, of whatever gender mix, or individual is best placed for the child.

Yes the balance is right to allow both people of faith and same sex couples the right to adopt. There is nothing in the High Court ruling that is cited that will prevent people of faith from adopting. Indeed in the personal experience of one of our members as part of the initial set up of a new scheme, in the past few years, three children were adopted by two couples of faith, from both sides of our community, and those families having gone through the process together are maintaining links. The fact is that some of the children being adopted by same-sex couples will actually being the natural children of one half of the partnership.

But surely the balance must always be on whether a child is placed in a home with parents or a parent that will love it and bring it in a safe and supportive environment.

We are unsure as to whether there is a better balance to be struck as the Adoption and Children Bill has yet to be laid before the Assembly so we do not yet know what balance Northern Ireland is to strike between the issues raised in this question in light of the adjudication of the High Court.

Question 4 How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on human rights?

Negatively
We need only refer you to Articles 8, 9 and 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Article 8
Right to respect for private and family life

1 Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2 There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 9
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1 Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2 Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 10
Freedom of expression

1 Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2 The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

This clause seems to not allow the right of respect for private and family life of all individuals in Northern Ireland. It is allowing one section of society to judge on the family life of some individuals as being something they can take exception to and as a result to lead to them denying good, facilities and services, this is not respect. It seems to seek to the lift the responsibilities that come with freedom of religion which limitations include the protection of rights and freedoms of others. Similarly in the freedom of expression the exercise of the refusal within the clause fails to protect the reputation and rights of others.

As mentioned in question 2 the wording in too vague to ensure that discrimination of LGBT customers or clients will not occur either before or during access to goods, facilities or services. Behaviour is also too inclusive a term and may range from holding hands, kissing or acting flirtatiously something that mixed sex couple may well be free to engage in within the same setting.

Also in a nation obsessed from symbols does the wearing of a rainbow flag label badge, or pride t-shirt fall within promotion? Something that an individual may not even have consciously thought about but someone with “strongly held religious beliefs” under this wording could take exception to.

Question 5 How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on equality of opportunity?

Negatively

By opening up the Equality Act to conscience objection a whole can of worms can be opened and other forms of conscience will demand the same right to opt out of the Equality Act in part as this is doing. The end result would be no protection under the equality and much of our laws will be unenforceable once people claim their conscience allows them to take whatever course of action they choose.

The potential is also there that if introduced the right of individual conscience could be cited as a defence in a court of law on matters probably not intended by the drafter of the motion. With the wording of this bill it may prove difficult for a prosecutor to successful retort this claim as individuality of conscience would have been unleased into the realm of defence against actions undertaken.

As pointed out in the answer to question 4 regarding the Human Rights Act with the freedoms that the people of this nation have fought so hard to defend and protect through the years and two World Wars come responsibilities. Those responsibilities do not allow us to treat those with whom we have a different stand point to as inferior. Nor those that do not fit into our worldview norm. If we do we are treading unto a slippery slope such as the Cultural Revolution in China, the pogroms of Russia, the ethnic cleansing of the Balkans. Or the development of a supremacist way of viewing an elite such as in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

Question 6 Do you have any comments on the likely cost / financial implications of the proposed legislation?

In question 5 we mentioned the fact that numerous challenges from people of consciences not covered by this conscience clause will probably result. As these would have to be challenges through legal channels the costs in legal fees alone will probably be substantial. Protecting one type of conscience in a pluralist society could lead to all manner of law suits against all manner of decisions made by the Northern Ireland Assembly, when it contravenes a different vision of conscience.

In light of the many court decisions that DUP ministers have lost in terms of equality and potentially opening the NI Assembly to the expense that has been accrued there while they are looking to tighten the budget is not fiscally sound.

Question 7 Do you have any other comments on the proposed draft legislation? Would you suggest any further amendments?

Making a clause 16A when clause 16 relates to faith bodies (ie churches and charities thereof) when the provisions deal mainly with goods, facilities and services which come in clause 5 is sloppy legislative drafting and misplacing of the concerns. The fact that this claims to be about freedom of conscience for people of faith, yet is solely attached to sexual orientation regulations and not to other issues that people may have religious conscience objection to shows it up as clearly anti-LGBT and not pro-faith. Especially as those faith groups that are supportive of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage have so far not had their freedom of faith recognised in Northern Ireland.

The examples used, in the narrative of this consultation as to what the clause would and would not apply to seem far from the realities of life for most LGBT people in Northern Ireland. The issue of accommodation in a B&B could for example be expanded to include landlords or mortgage providers. Would a Christian landlord or mortgage provider for example be allowed to turn out an LGBT person because allowing them to use their service or accommodation would be facilitating same sex behaviour? Some taxi drivers in Belfast have already been known to turn out young LGBT couples on their way home from the City Centre to Elms Village because of their “behaviour” this would be allowed as a result of the clause, but is putting public safety at risk.

The long overdue and long promised sexual orientation strategy would surely have provided a framework within which such issues should have been addressed. The failure of OFMDFM to produce and implement this document after almost a decade since it was first raised has led to uncertainty within the LGBT community.

Therefore, instead of pursuing this needless piece of discriminatory legislation we call upon the DUP to call on OFMDFM to publish the Sexual Orientation Strategy by the end of this year.

Stephen Glenn
Membership and Policy Officer
Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats

Executive Committee Member
LGBT+ Liberal Democrats

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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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Filed under Equal Marriage, equality, faith, homophobia, NI Assembly, Stormont

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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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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Filed under adoption, Equal Marriage, equality