Category Archives: Human Rights

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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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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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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Poots to challenge High Court ruling on adoption

Homosexuality was only legalised in Northern Ireland after a court case.

Earlier today we reported that because of a court case the High Court had ruled that the prohibition of civil partners from adopting was unlawful, while lesbian or gay individuals were able to adopt providing they weren’t married or adopted.

Now the health minister Edwin Poots has yet again let his personal feelings get in the way of an objective ruling on a point of law. He has said within hours of the ruling that he will challenge the decision of the High Court.

“It is my intention to urgently appeal this judgment and I am taking this action with a heavy heart.

“I have already publicly declared my intention to reform Northern Ireland adoption law because reform is much needed and long overdue.

“This judicial review has already delayed plans to introduce a new Adoption and Children Bill in the [Northern Ireland] Assembly and I fear that this will lead to further delay.”

Now the delay is because the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 differed from the regulations for adoption in the rest of the UK. The judicial review came about when it became apparent that the Northern Ireland Assembly chose to deliberately remove the option of anyone in a civil partnership from adopting while maintaining that individuals still could, irrespective of sexual orientation. The easiest way to prevent further delay is to take on board the ruling of the judicial review. Ah, but that would be far too easy and far too wrong for the Health Minister.

Earlier this year the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, even tried to argue to the European Court of Human Rights that Austria should not allow same-sex couples to adopt as this would impact on Northern Ireland. Yet this court decision was made in Northern Ireland about Northern Irish people.

The DUP are using every means at their disposal to block any increase in LGBT equality legislation. Poots himself is refusing to countenance any lifting of the lifetime ban on men who have had sex with another man giving blood (despite not widely consulting on this issue). Ahead of the motion on equal marriage it was they that raised a petition of concern, effectively allowing their party to whip a unionist veto. Now even when a High Court makes a review on an issue they are challenging it straight away. Even the original decriminalisation decision was opposed by all Northern Ireland MPs when the vote came to the Commons in 1982.

It is time for the DUP to look at the universal good and not maintain a narrow world view on decisions in this area. Our legislators from the DUP and others do continue to make us appear to be a back water.

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Councillor with ‘no interest’ in equal marriage discards unread letter

Yesterday outside Fermanagh District Council in Enniskillen (the first Council in Ireland to vote against supporting equal marriage) there was a protest against that decision made at the previous council meeting.

Now there has been discussion this week about whether opponents of equal marriage are bigots or not during the week. The local paper The Impartial Reporter recorded comments from some of the Councillors shortly after they had come past the protestor. As part of the protest a letter was handed to each Councillor expressing their concerns about the vote the other week when the Unionists voted against and the SDLP abstained causing Sinn Féin’s motion to fall by one vote.

One Councillor the DUP’s Cyril Brownlee though he took the letter was seen to ball it up and throw it away without even reading it. You can hear Councillor Brownlee’s comments in The Impartial Reporter‘s recordings. Today some are arguing that the actions and then words of Councillor Brownlee can be summed up by the following definition.

big·ot  (bgt)
n.

One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.

Definition from The Free Dictionary

As an elected representative he said he would not read a letter expressing a view merely because it ‘was of no interest to him’. Now I think if something of no interest to him to the extent that he will not even read a contrary opinion of concerned surely that is a very, strongly partial tendency to his own position. Yet he has taken a decision, indeed made a statement that the whole, or majority, of Northern Ireland is opposed to something. Yet in our shared present our politicians are bound to respect minorities, indeed enshrined in the founding document of the Northern Ireland Assembly is protections for all those minorities. For something that is of no interest to him however, he took enough interest to vote against something that clearly he hasn’t even looked into, remember it has no interest to him.
If he had cared to read the letter that was send to him, he would have read these words from the demonstration organiser Frankie Dean:

I am writing to you on behalf of the LGBT community in Fermanagh to ask you to reconsider your vote against Equal Marriage. It is not Gay Marriage because that excludes other same sex couples it is Equal Marriage.

In common with any other area  10% of the Fermanagh population young and older will be LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender), it is wrong to discriminate against any group in society especially minority groups.

It is my understanding from information received and also from press reports that a basis of some councillors decision against this motion was for personal religious reasons. I wish to point out that religion has historically been inherently discriminatory towards different groups in society and it is for this reason that decisions made in council meetings should not be swayed by religious beliefs. If that is to be acceptable where is the end perhaps we should close all shops and garages on Sunday and make everyone go to church twice on Sundays.

I also wish to make clear that Equal Marriage legislation would never force any religious organisation of whatever faith to conduct marriages which are not in their framework of beliefs.  It simply makes it possible for those organisations that do wish to conduct same sex ceremonies to do so and will allow same sex couples to marry elsewhere or at the registry office.

Civil partnership legislation is not the same as a Heterosexual Marriage as it leaves same sex couples in a very difficult legal position when it comes to many things including inheritance when one partner dies.

Same sex relationships and marriages will never present any harm or problem to society I cannot understand at all what is the problem with two people making a loving commitment to each other in a society where there is a lot of divorce and difficult relations surely two people loving each other should be encouraged.

In recent meetings council employees told me and others that they supported equality and wanted to reach out to minority groups such as the LGBT community. The decision against Equal Marriage is in direct conflict with this.

Finally I would also point out that out of all the councils that have voted on this issue so far Fermanagh District Council is the only one against. This can only send out messages to society including the worldwide community that Fermanagh is a homophobic place and is behind. This can do nothing to encourage tourism and the local economy. Remember to pink pound is 10% of all income.

I trust that you will take time to review your decisions and will do the right thing and support all sections of society in future.

Unlike Cllr. Brownlee’s irrational actions in not even taking on board the views expressed, this is rational argument pointing out repercussions of the vote that was taken by this Council, not just for a number of residents but to the local economy as well.  Fermanagh is of course Northern Ireland’s Lakeland and along with the Causeway Coast and Mournes one of the jewels for the Northern Irish Tourist Board attracting tourists both straight and gay to come visit.

Hardly a majority of Northern Ireland opposed so far. Hardly an issue that is not of interest. And Cllr. Brownlee’s action are hardly the actions that would be tolerated by elected representatives anywhere else in the UK, or indeed from most other political parties.

To publicly react this way to representation from a minority group within his community would not be tolerated if it were any other minority group. So is this an example of bigotry?

Not everyone who is against equal marriage is a bigot. But sometimes it is the way in which you oppose something that singles you out as one. In the case of Cllr. Brownlee there certainly appears to enough evidence that he is strongly partial to his own group, religion, or politics on this issue and is intolerant of those who differ.

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Is Northern Ireland’s Attorney General adopting Austria?

There is news today in the Belfast Telegraph that the Attorney General in Northern Ireland, John Larkin, is sticking his nose into Austrian equality legislation.

The issue is because X and others v Austria is up before the European Court of Human Rights over the issue of gay couples being able to adopt. He as asked the ECHR to pay heed to the way these matters are handled in Northern Ireland before making any final decision on the basis of the Austrian evidence. In his submission handed to the Court in June he argues:

“Any decision made by the ECHR in relation to the application in X and Others v Austria will have a significant influence on the outcome of any future litigation within Northern Ireland on the issues raised.”

He urges that because there is litigation pending in Northern Ireland that the deliberations over Austria could have adverse effects here.

As we have blogged earlier there was a deliberate omission in Northern Irish law which hasn’t even been very well thought out or disguised, where a gay single person can adopt but one in a stable relationship cannot because of the way UK law was adapted here. As the Belfast Telegraph point out the litigation currently progressing in Northern Ireland relates to the natural mother of a child and her same-sex partner seeking to adopt that child as part of their relationship.  When before the House of Lords this was apparently an inadvertent slip, yet surely this is not what the Attorney General is wanting to maintain.

Of course not, he has since said that the outright ban that the House of Lords considered to be illegal, wasn’t inadvertent but a deliberate intention of the executive. Somehow despite this it is still in place and actually now our Attorney General is seeking to have such an illegal ban exported to the rest of Europe.

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When equality is only worth the paper it is written on?

One of the often heard excuses of why marriage equality is not needed is that sure lesbians and gays have civil partnerships. The most common rebuttal is that having something different while it currently has all the legal equalities is not secure as giving LGBT people something that is truly equal.

If you doubt that you only have to look at what happened in Queensland, Australia last week. A swing to the right in the recent state election has led to the downgrading of civil partnerships to a ‘registered relationship’ taking away the right to a official ceremony so that they look less like marriage. If people say that the only thing that is required for a civil partnership is the piece of paper at the end of the procedure they can really make something different just that, signing the piece of paper as one does to buy a house, open a joint account or any other legal transaction that two people can do together.

Imagine the outcry if opposite sex marriage were reduced to just the signing of the register. Bridal shops and hire companies would be up in arms, florists, cake decorators and hotel function managers would be deriding such a selfish decision. Manufacturers of paper hankies may benefit in the short term as brides to be sob at their dream day being taken away from them.

Of course if marriage equality were in place you could not downgrade one marriage without downgrading all marriage.

So while people say you have civil partnership you have equality, it is clear that it is only at the whim of the current political atmosphere. Something different that claims to be equal but isn’t exactly equal can just as easily be taken away again.

So if you ask me why I want marriage equality, think how you would like to be told that your marriage was to be downgraded because of some change in the law. Of course marriage equality doesn’t do that (another lie from those opposed). How can how someone else deals with their love and their marriage possibly affect yours?  But leaving equality only a legal abstract and not true equality leaves the possibility that laws can be changed at some point in the future, you only have to look at the way America goes about these things.

Let’s bring equality in marriage together in such a way that no man that tear it apart.

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62% of Northern Ireland in favour of Equal Marriage

You would think that result in a survey would garner some sort of headline. It didn’t and I missed it, but thanks to Stephen Donnan for pointing it out to me.

You will find it at the bottom of this report on a survey by the Northern Ireland Assembly Election Study project with the fieldwork taking place between May 18 and June 17, 2011, surveying 1200 people.

The question was:

“Do you think that gays and homosexuals should have the same rights as everyone else, such as the right to get married and to adopt children?”

The survey found than 44 per cent of people responded definitely yes, with 18 per cent saying probably yes.

Just 20.6 per cent said definitely no.

These figures are astounding for Northern Ireland. We’re the one part of the UK where lesbian and gay couple are not yet allowed to adopt children as a couple. We are the one part of the UK where a consultation is not only not on the horizon, but the consequences of it elsewhere are not even apparently under active consideration for the Sexual Orientation Strategy that has yet to be published. Men who have sex with men in Northern Ireland are the only ones in the UK who still face a lifetime ban on donating.

It leads us to the question how in touch are our MLAs and Ministers on the Hill at Stormont to these issues. The people are clearly more ready for change than they are. The DUP are still famous for not attending events they are invited to by the LGBT community.

Well the people have spoken in this survey.

Let us not forget that when we are talking about a shared future we are talking about a shared future for all. All is even defined in Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, just so they can check who all is.

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Is Northern Ireland’s adoption policy discriminatory?

Gay fathersThe Belfast Telegraph yesterday decided to revisit the issue of adoption in Northern Ireland. It points out an interesting dichotomy of the Stormont Amendments to Articles 14 and 15 of the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 as amended (see red) in 2005 to take account of The Civil Partnership Act 2004.

Adoption by a Married Couple

14.—(1) An adoption order shall not be made on the application of more than one person except in the circumstances specified in paragraphs (2) and (3).

(2) An adoption order may be made on the application of a married couple where both the husband and the wife have attained the age of 21 years.

(3) An adoption order may be made on the application of a married couple where—

(a)the husband or the wife—

(i)is the father or mother of the child; and

(ii)has attained the age of 18 years;

and

(b)his or her spouse has attained the age of 21 years.

(4) An adoption order shall not be made on the application of a married couple unless at least one of them is domiciled in a part of the United Kingdom, or in any of the Channel Islands or in the Isle of Man.

Adoption by a single person

15.—(1) An adoption order may be made on the application of one person where he has attained the age of 21 years and—

(a)is not married or a civil partner, or

(b)is married and the court is satisfied that—

(i)his spouse cannot be found, or

(ii)the spouses have separated and are living apart, and the separation is likely to be permanent, or

(ii)his spouse is by reason of ill-health, whether physical or mental, incapable of making an application for an adoption order.

2) An adoption order shall not be made on the application of one person unless he is domiciled in a part of the United Kingdom, or in any of the Channel Islands or in the Isle of Man.

(3) An adoption order shall not be made on the application of the mother or father of the child alone unless the court is satisfied that—

(a)the other natural parent is dead or cannot be found or, by virtue of section 28 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (disregarding subsections (5A) to (5I) of that section), there is no other parent, or

(b)there is some other reason justifying the exclusion of the other natural parent,

and where such an order is made the reason justifying the exclusion of the other natural parent shall be recorded by the court.

So lets take the example of two individuals:

Mark aged (35) is a gay man who in 2005 got civil partnered to his lover of the past 5 years Peter (36). They live in Antrim and are a consultant and Antrim Area Hospital and an Air Traffic Controller and Belfast International Airport. Under the articles above they cannot adopt a child despite them both loving the various nephews and nieces that their respective brothers and sisters often leave them in charge of for babysitting duties.

James is a 22 year old gay man from Belfast. He is working for the Civil Service as an Administrative Officer. He too has nephews and a niece but his family disowned him at the age of 16 when he told them he was gay. He has very little contact with children as all of his friends are other gay men that he spends his weekends with down at or near Union Street. Under the above articles there is nothing stopping him adopting as a single person should he so choose, he can adopt if he wants and his status is still single when he does.

Believe it or not for all the talk of family values from politicians in Northern Ireland preventing gay couples adopting there is nothing to stop gay singles from doing so under the law. Bizarrely the Northern Ireland Assembly via myopia, prejudice, intent or accident have allowed lesbian and gay singles to do something that lesbian and gay couples cannot do.

May I suggest the following changes to Section 14:

Adoption by a Married Couple

14.—(1) An adoption order shall not be made on the application of more than one person except in the circumstances specified in paragraphs (2) and (3).

(2) An adoption order may be made on the application of

(a) a married couple where both the husband and the wife have attained the age of 21 years.

(b) a civil partnership where both partners have attained the age of 21 years.

(3) An adoption order may be made on the application of a married couple or civil partnership where—

(a)the husband or the wife or one of the civil partners

(i)is the father or mother of the child; and

(ii)has attained the age of 18 years;

and

(b)his or her spouse or civil partner has attained the age of 21 years.

(4) An adoption order shall not be made on the application of a married couple or civil partnership unless at least one of them is domiciled in a part of the United Kingdom, or in any of the Channel Islands or in the Isle of Man.

There that didn’t hurt too much, did it? I look forward to the debate in Stormont.

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Filed under homophobia, Human Rights, law, Stormont

Equal Marriage marching on except in Northern Ireland

Cross posted on Stephen’s Liberal Journal

Liberal Democrats at Edinburgh’s Equal Marriage March
Picture copyright Liberal Youth Scotland

On Valentine’s Day my Lib Dem colleagues in Scotland joined others for a march to Holyrood in support of equal marriage. As you may be aware there has been a consultation process there into the subject and the Government are now considering those submissions. There will also be a consultation by Westminster covering England and Wales.

However, the week before in the Northern Ireland Assembly the subject of the Sexual Orientation Strategy once again emerged from the long grass it has spent most of a decade in to feature at the top of First Minister’s Questions. With the Junior Minister saying that OFMDFM do intend to publish this strategy and the revised Cohesion Sharing and Integration programme this year it fell on my Green Party MLA Steven Agnew to ask about one specific:

Mr Agnew: Will there be any mention of gay marriage (Editor’s note: I will be sending a note off to my MLA to correct his language on this) in the sexual orientation strategy? Has any progress been made on providing full equal rights to gay couples?

Mr Bell (Junior Minister, Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister): Questions on those matters are the subject of much discussion and have been the subject of much discussion in the media over recent weeks. The issue is not under active consideration.

Now just what did the Junior Minister mean by that?

Is it simply that there is no active consideration of extending equal marriage legislation to Northern Ireland, even if the rest of the UK does. Seeing as we still lag behind on adoption for gay parents and blood donation, this would not be out of character for the Norther Ireland Assembly.

However, more problematic is what if the rest of the UK do accept equal marriage, what consideration then is there to recognise those couples so married should they choose to reside in Northern Ireland? Will their marriages valid and recognised in the majority of the UK not be recognised in Northern Ireland. If they are not civil partnered but married be offered protections under the law of a region that is only recognising marriage as between people of opposite gender and civil partnerships as between those of the same gender.

There could be knock on effects if Northern Ireland doesn’t recognise equal marriages from the rest of the UK or indeed the world within its Sexual Orientation Strategy. There will be concerns as far as benefits go, health provision, wording and filling in of forms in all manner of ways.

The fact that there is no active consideration of the complications that carrying on a different approach to the rest of the UK again means that Northern Ireland will be reactionary in its response to this issue and is failing to be proactive in thinking there will be consequences. Not everyone born in Northern Ireland stays here, a lot of us do go elsewhere to study/work. Many of us fall in love with people from other parts of the UK, some of us may even bring that partner to live with us here in Northern Ireland.

So if an LGBT couple fall into that last category having been married elsewhere what position does that leave them in under Northern Irish legislation?

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Filed under Equal Marriage, Human Rights, law, Stormont