Tag Archives: adoption

Jim Wells’ comments in last night’s hustings

Firstly all of those at LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland want to say we are glad to have read the news in the Belfast Telegraph the other day that Mrs Grace Wells is recovering from the rare condition that affected her a short while ago. We wish her all the best in the future and understand the strain this may have put Jim Wells under.

However, if he was really under a lot of stress looking after his wife it should surely have been grounds for him not to put himself under further stress on top of being an MLA and Health Minister to seek election to Westminster. We are putting this up front as Jim Wells in a statement issued last night (see below) mentioned personal stress in recent weeks.

It is this series of comments from last night’s hustings in South Down that has brought this to a head:

Jim Wells

The comments can be viewed in video clips online.

Must horrifying of all with a raucous crowd to the last part about abuse, he immediately sets out to repeat his comments as clarification that he had said them and wanted them to be heard

The last of the sequence is that one that caused the uproar but comments have been made by members of the DUP that they have been taken out of context to the early comments about haranguing Christians and being insatiable lead up to the one about abuse of children by those in homosexual relationships.

There are over 1,200 children currently in care in Northern Ireland as the result of being victims of abuse. Is Mr Wells therefore saying that over 600 of these are from the result of having two carers of the same sex? Note we did not say parents as currently he is not allowing same-sex couples to adopt here despite a court ruling that the law should be changed to allow this. The facts of course are that very few of those children are there as a result of same-sex parents from come from homes with a father and mother involved in their upbringing.

In context of course Mr Wells had previously said that all who took part in Pride were repugnant, this was long before his wife’s current illness.

Mr Wells comments about abuse also seem to flow his comments about the victim of a rape who becomes pregnant in 2014 he said:

“That is a tragic and difficult situation but should the ultimate victim of that terrible act [rape] – which is the unborn child – should he or she also be punished for what has happened by having their life terminated? No.”

There seems to be no realisation that the ultimate victim of any unwanted sexual encounter is the woman who has suffered. It is her body that has been violated, her emotions that have become distraught, her rights that have been abused. It leads to the question does the Health Minister really understand abuse in any situation.

Mr Wells also during the break between the first debate and vote on equal marriage in Stormont was in front of one of members, whom he had meet before, in the restaurant. When the member said hello and was about to ask how his wife and family were, was shunned by Mr Wells with the comment “Oh, you’re one of them!” before he turned heel and ended the civil on the part of our member’s conversation.

Here is Mr Wells’ response after the hustings debate last night:

“The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for me personally. I had just come from a hospital visit and my focus was not on the debate. Indeed, during the event I received several messages from the hospital.

“I have listened to a recording of the relevant part of the debate. I accept that one line of what I said caused offence and deep concern amongst members of the audience and beyond. I regret having wrongly made that remark about abuse and I’m sorry those words were uttered. The comment did not reflect my view nor that of my party.

“Within seconds of realising this error, I asked the Chairman to let me back in and twice corrected my remarks before the debate moved on. This clarification has been confirmed by the journalists present at the event. Partial clips, spin and selective reporting regrettably miss this.

“The neglect or abuse of children is awful and happens in unstable relationships whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. I make no distinction between anyone who neglects or abuses a child regardless of their sexual orientation. I trust people will accept my explanation and my apology.”

If we give Mr Wells the benefit of the doubt over the first sentence we would like to ask why has he made the past few weeks and next couple even more difficult for himself by standing for election in another legislature at this difficult personal time. Clearly this thought wasn’t to the forefront of his mind when he signed the papers allowing himself to be nominated as the DUP candidate for South Down.

But on the matter of an issue such as abuse which falls under his Health and Social Care remit he should surely be aware of the sensitive nature of his comments and the facts about the situation here in Northern Ireland. While he has the right to say he is opposed to same-sex marriage he does not have the right to make up statistics, facts and vilify every lesbian, gay or bisexual person in Northern Ireland in doing so.

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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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Lack of tolerance putting Northern Ireland in a bad light

Yesterday the editorial in the Belfast Telegraph stating that the reaction of senior figures to LGBT and abortion issues was putting Northern Ireland in a bad light.

Here is the text of that editorial in full:

Abortion and the rights of gay people are issues which are never far from controversy in Northern Ireland.

Polar opposite opinions are often expressed with equal conviction and it has to be recognised that in this society religious beliefs play a very important role. Opinion formers and politicians must all take into account the substantial number of people whose views on these issues could be classified as liberal.

Health Minister Edwin Poots is undoubtedly a man of strong personal convictions, but he is taking the wrong approach in challenging the |High Court decision which ruled that the ban on gay and unmarried couples adopting in Northern Ireland is discriminatory. At a time when we are all being urged to exercise fiscal prudence and when the public purse is constantly tightening, his determination to carry on the legal fight may be perceived by many as a waste of public funds.

This newspaper also finds the intervention of the province’s Attorney General John Larkin in the controversy over the opening of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast somewhat disquieting. He has written to the Justice Committee asking it to look into the practices of the clinic and also offered his services to the committee in his non-statutory role as guardian of the rule of law. He is not allowed to intervene in his official capacity, and it is surprising to see a legal figure of his stature voluntarily becoming involved when the expectation would have been for him to stand aloof from the issue in case of some future need to adjudicate.

While the interventions of Mr Poots and Mr Larkin are entirely separate, their unfortunate conjunction in time sends out an unfortunate message. The High Court, the highest tribunal in the land, has ruled on gay adoption and found the current ban untenable. The Marie Stopes clinic says it has no intention of breaching the stringent laws here on abortion. However, and this may be an unintended consequence, the interventions create the unfortunate impression that Northern Ireland is a less tolerant place than it really is.

When a paper for 140 years part of the establishment of unionist Northern Ireland points out that unionist leaders are holding Northern Ireland back on these issues you know that the unionist politicians are not necessarily speaking for the entire unionist population. Remember only 3 unionists voted in favour of marriage equality at the start of the month.

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Northern Ireland gay adoption ban unlawful

Earlier this year we raised the issue of the discriminatory Northern Ireland policy preventing Lesbian and Gay couples from adopting.

Today in the High Court in Belfast Mr Justice Treacy has deemed that the ban was unlawful. He said:

“Excluding persons from the whole adoption process on the sole basis of their relationship status can only serve to narrow the pool of potential adopters which cannot be in the best interests of children.”

Unlike in the rest of the UK legislation in Northern Ireland deliberately went out of its way to exclude those in civil partnerships from adoption, while maintaining that individuals could still legally adopt. As we said earlier it meant that a lesbian or gay man were not prevented from adopting as long as they had no partner, or at least not one recognised by the state. But if they were committed to a relationship then they would not be allowed to adopt. Speaking on this issue Mr Justice Treacy said:

“In choosing to make a public commitment to one another, they become totally excluded both as individuals and as a couple from eligibility to adopt, ie not eligible at all.

“This is quite irrational and plainly unlawful.

“The present legislation essentially entails that a gay or lesbian person must choose between being eligible to adopt, or affirming their relationship in public via a civil partnership ceremony.”

The Northern Ireland Attorney General, John Larkin QC, had argued on behalf of the Department of Health that the change wouldn’t be in the best interests of the children, contending that Northern Ireland’s adoption laws were to ensure child welfare rather than satisfy the wishes of would-be parents. But Mr Justice Treacy stated:

“The rigorous scrutiny and assessment of suitability will ensure that only persons capable of providing a loving, safe and secure adoptive home will ultimately be considered.”

He acknowledged that that issues such as sexual orientation, lifestyle, race and religion must be taken into account, but added:

“But they cannot be allowed to prevail over what is in the best interests of the child.”

With the high number of children in Northern Ireland waiting for adoption the Equality Commission’s Chief Commissioner, Professor Michael O’Flaherty said of the ruling:

“Given the high numbers of children in care, who need a family in Northern Ireland, the importance of this case in widening the pool of prospective parents cannot be overstated. We are therefore delighted with this outcome.

“It brings Northern Ireland law in line with the rest of the UK and means that couples who are not married, those in civil partnerships and same sex couples will be now be allowed to apply to adopt.”

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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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Up to the Assembly to adopt equality for LGBT citizens

So the Northern Ireland attorney general has come to his decision on Gay Couples adopting in Northern Ireland, something that I wrote about earlier.

Mr John Larkin QC has ruled that the ban should remain in place until the Stormont Assembly decide otherwise.

So we are having to rely on the same body that refuses to lift the ban on Men who have had sex with other men from every donating blood, yet have imported units from the rest of the UK who have. The same Assembly that apparently is uniquely not giving ‘active consideration‘ to equal marriage. Indeed the only part of the UK to actually have had civil partnership regulations drawn up for it during a period when devolved power had been suspended*.

Hardly surprising that the LGBT community in Northern Ireland isn’t holding up much hope of said Assembly keeping up fully with their Section 75 requirements under the Northern Ireland Act. It seems that the community themselves are pushing for these things without much support from out side the LGBT Sector.

So yet another case of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland waiting for the Assembly to move in the same way as the rest of the UK.

* The long suspension of devolution from 14 October 2002 to 7 May 2007

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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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