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Opinion: Self Determination post Brexit

We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people. We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs and commit ourselves to the promotion of a democratic federal framework within which as much power as feasible is exercised by the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

Setting aside national sovereignty when necessary, we will work with other countries towards an equitable and peaceful international order and a durable system of common security. Within the European Community we affirm the values of federalism and integration and work for unity based on these principles.

Extracts from the Premable of the Liberal Democrat Constitution

The Referendum on Thursday was allowed that sovereignty to rest with the people, but as Liberal Democrats we also recognise that decision making power should lie with the nations and regions of the UK. Thus is was that on Friday when the result was known Northern Ireland had voted to remain while the national vote as a whole was to leave.

The issue in Northern Ireland is further frustrated as the result on Friday now means that the border which some of those who argued for Brexit want to control is largely unprotected for 300 miles from Lough Foyle in the North West to Carlingford Lough in the South East. While there are already controls that an be established at airports, port and even the Channel Tunnel there are 300 miles of open countryside that in the past 2 decades we have taken down control points, reopened some access routes and made almost unrecognisable from the time of The Troubles.

Within hours of the decision Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that the “majority of people in Northern Ireland are content with the political
settlement established under the Belfast Agreement [sic] and Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.” The problem is the settlement with which they were content shifted in the early hours of Friday morning.

Northern Ireland’s place with in the UK is passed primarily upon the Northern Ireland Act, which itself is entrenched within the EU and its institutions. Much of the rights and protections which the parties here spent years negotiating were backed up not only by the UK but also the EU. If we leave the EU and by default its protections the Northern Ireland Act is a void, it needs to be redrafted and readopted by the people. Therefore to start with the foundations of Ms Villiers arguments are crumbling.

The second issue is that the settled will of the people in 1998 was based on both Ireland and the UK having been members of the EU from the point in time. The people agreed that within the EU there was a wider settlement to the peace, a further layer of mobility, flexibility and security. The contentment of the people on Wednesday should not be assumed by anyone without further knowledge to have been the same by Friday. I have seen a number of friends already say that while before they would never have envisioned voting for reunification now they consider it the best option.

Not only did David Cameron take a gamble and lost, the DUP took a different gamble. The DUPs was to be vocal in supporting leave and the people of Northern Ireland would still largely want to be a member of the United Kingdom whatever the outcome. But a number are starting to say they would rather remain part of the EU rather than in an isolationist UK. There are a number of reasons for this and a number of reasons while small u unionists are starting to look elsewhere.

The economic unionistsThese are the ones who look at the financial implications. During the 80s and early 90s many of these could have been persuaded to vote for reunification as a resurgent Ireland would have invested more in jobs and infrastructure in the North than the then Conservative government in Westminster was doing. The fact that the shortcomings of that Tory government came in a large part from EU peace monies is another reason why now these people might vote for a united Ireland.

The liberal unionists: These are the ones who would always have looked at which of the nations had the more liberal legislation. Historically these had always sided with the UK. They have not envisioned at any point to leave as previously the Irish government was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church. But this has become less of an issue now. Indeed the Republic is now more liberal than Northern Ireland which was not the case even in 1998. These people now could look at the change in situation as it being more likely to get improvements in liberal values not from the angry mob that controlled the Brexit message but by a more welcoming and inclusive Ireland.

The stability unionists: These are those who have always maintained what they felt was best for stability. These are the type who historically were nervous about the unknown of the Irish Free State and felt that they would keep as much of Ireland as possible part of the UK. The take a mix of a economic view and a security view into the situation. With the future of the UK uncertain we have to see where those who have considered the UK the most stable future will pitch there tent.

However, whatever you think of this argument nobody at present can know for certain if there is a desire or will within the people of Northern Ireland to have a border poll. The goal posts have been moved dramatically in recent days and nobody if currently certain by what rules we will play the game. Theresa Villiers cannot have determined as she did on Friday that there is no reason to call a border poll, similarly the DUP cannot know if that is not to be.

We live in interesting times, confusing times and changed times.

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The DUP hive response to next weeks #equalmarriage vote

We have been monitoring social media and we know that not all of those we have seen have asked the DUP the same question about the vote on equal marriage in a week’s time on 2nd November.

Indeed our our co-ordinator, Stephen Glenn, actually asked those of his MLAs who had concerns that they felt the need to sign a petition of concern to tell him about them. Stephen as many may be aware was actually working at bringing about marriage equality before such things as civil partnerships were invented by a Labour Government. He was heavily involved in the Scottish Liberal Democrats being the first part of the Federal Party passing policy on this (before the 2010 General Election), part of that was coming up with a very simple form of words to recognise that not all faith groups have the same view on equal marriage.

However, no matter how you have addressed your issue in support of equal marriage, to whichever DUP MLA(s) represent you it is clear that all questions, all emails, all letters are being responded to with this form of words.

Thank you for your e mail. I would however indicate that the position of the DUP has not changed on this issue, and we will be voting against the motion.

Yeah apparently every member of the DUP is able to speak for every single other member of the party on this issue.

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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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Jim Wells resigns as Health Minister

It is often said that a week is a long time in politics, today it would appear a weekend is a similarly long period for the Northern Ireland health department.

As recently as Saturday after the first calls that the NI Health Minister, Jim Wells, should resign because of comments he made in a hustings on Thursday evening he was adamant that he would not be stepping down as Health Minister.

Yesterday in an article in one of the Sunday newspapers there was the revelation that on top of his wife’s recent health issues he himself had been diagnosed with narcoplesy.

However, news yesterday also appeared that Jim Wells while out canvassing in Rathfriland has taken offence to a lesbian couples lifestyle on their doorstep before, as with the hustings, he tried to go back allegedly to apologise. This latest incident is under police investigation.

It appears that overnight he had approached Peter Robinson to tender his resignation which was formerly announced at 7:00am.

His time as health minister had continued to follow the ill informed objections to LGBT and abortion issues of his predecessor. The DUP say that they will announce his successor on 11th May.

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What does the Liberal Democrat Manifesto say about LGBT issues?

Here is what the LIberal Democrat manifesto has to say about LGBT issues:

A fair society should treat its citizens equally and with dignity. In this Parliament, thanks to Liberal Democrats in government, there have been key advances in the fight for equality – like introducing same-sex marriage and banning age discrimination. But we must continue our work to fight prejudice and discrimination based on race, age, religion or belief, gender, sexuality, and disability. We will enact the remaining unimplemented clauses of the Equality Act 2010

To promote equality in relationships and for LGBT+ individuals, we will:

  • Give legal rights and obligations to cohabiting couples in the event of relationship breakdown or one partner dying without a will.
  • Permit humanist weddings and opposite sex civil partnerships, and liberalise the rules about the location, timing and content of wedding ceremonies.
  • Support schools to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination, and to establish a tolerant and inclusive environment for all their pupils. We will remove schools’ exemption from the bar on harassment in these areas while protecting the right to teach about religious doctrine.
  • Promote international recognition of same sex marriages and civil partnerships as part of a comprehensive International LGBT Rights Strategy that supports the cause of decriminalising homosexuality in other countries.
  • Seek to pardon all those with historic convictions for consensual homosexual activity between adults.
  • Enhance the experience of all football fans by making homophobic chanting a criminal offence, like racist chanting.
  • Ask the Advisory Committee on Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs periodically to review rules around men who have sex with men donating blood to consider what restrictions remain necessary.

We also take our responsibility as an internationalist party seriously and also say the following.
Liberal Democrats believe British foreign policy and international aid should seek to advance human rights and democracy throughout the world. We believe all people – regardless of ethnicity, disability, age, belief, gender or sexual orientation – deserve a freer, fairer and more prosperous world.
We will:

  • Develop a comprehensive strategy for promoting the decriminalisation of homosexuality around the world, and advancing the cause of LGBT+ rights.

While we appreciate that the party are not standing here in Northern Ireland and therefore have not laid out specific Northern Ireland policies the above lays out the ethos that the Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland will also work towards as well as the various inequalities we currently experience with the rest of the UK and indeed the rest of Ireland.

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109 days until Northern Ireland becomes less equal

The Westminster equalities Minister, Maria Miller,  has today announced that the first same-sex marriage in England and Wales will be able to take place on 29th March.

While this is a welcome step it is also going to be a sad day for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. While our brothers and sisters in England and Wales will be able to benefit from this march towards equality here we will not benefit. Firstly and most obviously the DUP have lead the campaign to oppose any introduction of marriage equality here and have threatened that even if a majority of MLAs were to vote in favour that they would introduce a petition of concern which they alone would block on a whipped vote. It is to be noted that in Westminster and Holyrood that all the votes there of the major parties have been a free vote.

Of course the other way in which Northern Ireland’s LGBT community will become less equal after 29th March is that even if a same-sex couple were to be married elsewhere in the UK, should they move to Northern Ireland after the ceremony their marriage would not be recognised as a marriage but only as a civil partnership, even if that marriage were to be carried out by a faith group and therefore not a secular act.

The Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland will continue to work with out colleagues in the Alliance Party, Greens, SDLP, Sinn Féin, NI21 and others who are still working on getting marriage equality into law here in Northern Ireland. We know we have a long march ahead of us yet, but then on issues of LGBT equality that is something that we as a community are too used to.

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On equal marriage Northern Ireland drifts behind as Scotland advances

Last night at Holyrood the Scottish Parliament voted 98 votes to 15 in favour of stage 1 of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. It is a clear majority supporting the progress going forward and there are only 5 others who abstained plus one current vacancy (as a result of the death Cowdenbeath MSP Helen Eadie). So the chances of later stages being derailed are slim.

The Scottish Bill is more consulted on than that of the one that went through the House of Commons and is quite clear on both individual and religious freedom, which made some of the anti comments during last night’s debate seem redundant. That fact that it does enable faith groups that want to carry out same-sex marriage to do so, while protecting the rights of those that don’t is a sign of true religious freedom.

Unlike in the previous two debates in Northern Ireland where we have had to rely on a 100% heterosexual chamber from debating this issue, in Holyrood as in Westminster there were personal recollections, of what it means to grow up LGBT in Scotland.

The Conservative leader in Scotland Ruth Davidson was the first, and drew on what it meant to be seen as different:

Last year, the University of Cambridge conducted a huge body of research called “The School Report”. The researchers spoke to hundreds of LGBT pupils from across the UK who were open about their sexuality. The majority said that they were the victims of homophobic bullying and that it happened to them in their schools. More than half of the respondents deliberately self-harmed. Nearly a quarter had attempted to take their own life on at least one occasion.

These are our children and they are made to feel so much guilt, shame and despair. We have an opportunity today to make it better for them. At the moment, we tell these young people, “You are good enough to serve in our armed forces. You are good enough to care in our hospitals. You are good enough to teach in our schools. But you are not good enough to marry the person you love and who loves you in return.” We tell them that they are something different, something less, something other, and that the dream and gold standard of marriage does not apply to them. They do not get to have it. That apartheid message, that “same but different” or alien quality, and that otherness is reflected in every hurtful comment, slander, exclusion and abuse, whether it takes place in the school playground, on the factory floor, or in the local pub.

Marco Biagi (who won the Edinburgh Central seat, I sought selection for, in 2011) said:

It will not come as a surprise to anyone that, when I was young and my classmates started to notice girls, I started to notice boys. I was afraid. I looked at our society and I did not see myself looking back, whether in our institutions, such as marriage, in what was regarded in public debate at the time as good and moral, or even in how our society portrayed itself in fiction, in which any representation of same-sex attraction made the subject matter adult, to be ranked alongside pornography and violence. When all that I saw or knew of gay people was Julian Clary, Kenneth Williams or Graham Norton, I—a boy from a chip shop in Dunbartonshire—did not see myself. I could only conclude that I was different from normal and that what I was was less deserving as a result.

Today, this chamber can add a new tile to the great interlocking mosaic of our society that has been built up steadily, one piece at a time, since the Wolfenden report of 1957. Same-sex marriage will not be the last piece to be added to that mosaic. The bill is not the finished article, not least for the transgendered, but today we can further build a picture of our society that generations of young people to come can look at and see themselves in.

He went on to reveal something else he and me had in common:

If we were to vote down the bill, who would we be to say that the understanding of the sacrament of marriage held by other faiths that do not share that view should be allowed and the views of the Quakers and Unitarians should be forbidden unless we somehow believed that same-sex relationships were intrinsically different, wrong and worthy of legal prescription?

I cannot bring myself to believe that any member subscribes to that view, but I will tell members a secret: I did once. The shame of those days has now given way to a shame that I fought those feelings for such a long time. Sadly, I know too many who still fight them—people young and old whose lives are a daily denial. I do not have to imagine how it feels to live like that because I remember it.

The Green MSP Patrick Harvie talked about the nonsense of some of the arguments against the bill:

Members might be a little surprised that my personal circumstances place me in what I regard as impeccably neutral territory on the issue: I am single, I am bisexual, I have no idea whether I will have a long-term relationship with a man or a woman in future and I have no idea whether I would want to get married. Certainly, I do not personally regard marriage as a gold standard; I regard it as one of the many options on family status that people will make a choice between on the basis of their values and not the values that we would impose on them.

The arguments that we have heard against the bill have been many and varied. Some have been frankly spurious and silly, such as the one that goes, “Well, you know, you can get married already, just to somebody of the opposite sex.” I cannot believe how frequently I have heard that nonsensical and demeaning argument.

Some arguments have been mischievous. There have been deliberate attempts to whip up ungrounded fears about ministers in the Church of Scotland being dragged off by the police, taken to the courts and prosecuted for refusing to marry same-sex couples.

Some of the arguments against the legislation have simply been curious, such as the view that, from the starting point of religious freedom, the law ought to tell churches who they may not be allowed to marry. It seems to me that the argument for religious freedom must be in favour of what the Government is trying to achieve with the bill, which is to permit but not compel.

Some arguments against the legislation are serious and we should not ignore them—quite the contrary. There has been serious opposition to pretty much every step that has been taken in the equalities story over many generations. Certain voices have opposed every step towards LGBT equality, from decriminalisation onwards. Those serious arguments absolutely must not be ignored but must be confronted and defeated because they assert, whether in religious or other terms, the lesser worth, dignity, status or value of LGBT people and our relationships. Those arguments should and deserve to be defeated. In more than 20 years of volunteering, working or campaigning on many of those issues, I have in all honesty never heard a coherent moral argument in favour of the view that same-sex relationships are of lesser worth or status or that they are morally wrong. I have heard many such arguments rooted in homophobia but none in a coherent moral case.

Sadly of course no Liberal Democrat MSP could speak from personal opinion as Margaret Smith and Iain Smith (not related) both lost their seats in 2011. But Jim Hume did make a good speech, speaking of the Liberal democrats support of this as party policy, and also made a telling comment about those who feared churches facing prosecution:

I emphasise that the religious body must be willing. I know that there are concerns that religious bodies, whatever their denomination, might be forced on human rights grounds to marry people whom they do not want to marry, but I simply do not buy that. I am aware of churches that would not marry opposite-sex couples, for example because the couple were not regular attenders. I know of no case in which such a couple would take a church to court; they would simply go to a church that was happy enough to sanctify their relationship. I cannot envisage a same-sex couple having any joy in taking a religious body to court on human rights grounds. It is worth noting that the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission support the bill.

There is some more passage through stages in Holyrood before this Bill becomes and Act and law but it was a promising start last night. But the fact remains that here in Northern Ireland one party is holding the key to achieving this level of equality. One party that claims that our Britishness is worth protecting above everything else. Yet is denying the LGBT community here just that level of Britishness.

As I mentioned above and as Jim Hume pointed out there are ways to ensure that churches are not forced either in law or through the courts from having to marry people they don’t want to. As Jim Hume points out this already happens in a number of places. Scotland like Northern Ireland and unlike England and Wales does not have a state church that has to marry anyone in the parish that asks. But in bringing about a change in civil marriage it is only equitable that restrictions are also lifted on faith groups, while at the same time not forcing anything on them.

As this debate was called several times during its progress it was a mature debate for a young legislative body. It is a pity that some elements of the somewhat “younger” Northern Ireland assembly seem to act only with immaturity, ignoring facts, public opinion and what is happening in the world at large when it comes to LGBT equality.

On a final note there was a survey of 5,500 people mentioned during the debate that had some interesting findings. Of those who identified as Catholic 55% had not objection to same-sex marriage, of Presbyterians this was 50%, with 21% and 25% opposed respectively. It shows that even in the two big denominations in Scotland there is not a majority against, indeed the opposite. But like in Northern Ireland as we have seen through our representatives and how they vote the Catholic community appear to be slightly ahead of the protestants when it comes to acceptance of the LGBT community, one which of course straddles that divide in Northern Ireland.

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Supreme Courts deny Poots appeal on same-sex couples adopting

Today the Supreme Court of the UK has ruled that the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety had not meet the court’s criteria for an appeal and dismissed their case on the matter of same-sex and unmarried couples adopting.

A spokesman for the Supreme Court said:

“The Supreme Court issued an order on 22 October 2013 stating that the application did not satisfy the criteria of raising an arguable point of law of general public importance.”

In June  the Court of Appeal backed up the previous High Court ruling that the ban on unmarried and same-sex couple adopting was unlawful. But not satisfied Health Minister Edwin Poots said he would take his appeal to the next stage. Today that next stage the Supreme Court has spoken and just over a year after the first court decision he is left without any further ground to appeal.

Speaking on the decision LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Coordinator Stephen Glenn said:

“Thankfully the Supreme Court have come to a rapid dismissal of this latest appeal which was surely only launched in the interests of hindering LGBT equality and not in the interest of children who need families.

“However, it has taken over a year of legal proceedings for Edwin Poots to finally run out of legal avenues to pursue at a great cost to the public purse. This should be a lesson to him to stop spending public money on continuous appeals to attempt to block LGBT equality moving forward in Northern Ireland. Though these is now also an appeal pending on the blood ban and there is still a differential viewpoint on same-sex marriage to the rest of the UK.

“We await and see how much longer it will be before the Health Minister makes a move to actually resolve this issue but we trust that the suitable provision will be made in the Adoption and Children Bill to be introduced next year.”

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Lucy Meadows

You may not have heard of Lucy Meadows were it not for the tragic news earlier this week, or maybe because of the sensationalism of Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail previously.

Lucy Meadows was a primary school teacher, who recently had starting to go the transition into the women she knew she was meant to be. Last term the headmaster issued a letter to parents advising them that the sixth year teacher they had known would be returning after the Christmas break as Miss Meadows.

However, the press, and in particular Mr Littlejohn, went on a trans-hunt which made the life of a simple school teacher so impossible that she took her own life. As this acticle in The Guardian says all she wanted “was to be me”. But the constant hounding of the media became too much for Lucy to bear.

It is hard enough for people to be themselves, but when their work colleagues, fiends and family are willing to accept them as they are. When, as is the case with Lucy, the whole town seems to have been willing to accept her for who she wanted to be it is a crying shame that the nation media decided to hound her to her untimely death.

There wasn’t really a story here, any more than there is when a gay man comes into contact with children be they his nephew or nieces, friends children or those that come across his place of work, yes even if that is a school.

You see Daily Mail those who are LGBT don’t want to convert or change everyone to be just like them, they just want everyone to accept them for who they are. So get over it and accept that there are Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender people in every walk of live. That is not news!

What is news is the number of times that press speculation, harassment or ridicule leads to someone, even if not directly involved in the stories, to take their own live. That is culpable manslaughter.

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