Tag Archives: equal marriage

Democratic in name alone #equalmarriage

Today is the morning after a momentous day.

For the first time ever a majority of Northern Irish legislators in either a Westminster or Stormont vote have actually voted in favour of some step towards LGBT+ equality. Yes with 53 in favour and 51 against yesterday the rights of LGBT+ individuals reached a tipping point as never before.

Sadly of course this tipping point also simultaneously gave Northern Ireland an unwelcome entry into the record books. The Assembly yesterday became the first Legislature in the World to vote in favour of marriage equality while simultaneously blocking the same Legislature from progressing that equality measure. The reason of course if the so called “Democratic” Unionist Party (DUP).

In the past the DUP have argued that there was a need for a petition of concern because there was not majority support for marriage equality within the general population. This of course is not an opinion that has been borne out in independent scientific polling evidence in recent years.

Now their Chief Whip the North Down MLA Peter Weir says:

“If it requires a process of attrition to alter a result it does not demonstrate a great deal of force behind the argument.”

However, that is not the case through history. A process of attrition led to the abolition of slavery. Rights for workers. Votes for women. Non conformist emancipation from the established church. Devolution/Home Rule for (Northern) Ireland and Scotland. Civil rights for Jews, Blacks and Roman Catholics and indeed the legalisation of homosexuality. The fact that Peter Weir uses that argument against yesterday’s vote in the NI Assembly shows an ignorance of political history and disrespect of how minorities have always had to get their place as equals recognised by those with privilege.

The DUP are not Democratic, yesterday they have blocked progress a mantra of their newest MLA Emma Pengilly. She is in quite a different position from the UUP’s newest MLA Andy Allen who not only was the only of his party to vote in favour but also made an excellent speech laying out his position.

Yesterday was a morale victory which the LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland and their families and friends will have to remember when if comes to the ballot in the next year for a new Assembly. It also means that the DUP have given additional strength to the argument for a judicial review into the unequal state of marriage across the UK and island of Ireland. Now it is not being blocked by a majority vote in the Assembly but by a Petition of Concern being used to keep a minority less equal.

To all those MLAs who have come along a journey on the five votes in the Assembly we want to say thank you. We know you have been getting a lot of emails and letters from both sides of this debate and taken your time to weigh up what is right. It has not been attrition but good old fashioned lobbying, something that is a democratic right of the people in our nation to ask their representative for a fair and honest hearing of their views. Sadly it is a part of grown up politics that the DUP do not seem to acknowledge but it is something that Northern Ireland needs as we move forward.

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Filed under Equal Marriage, equality, history, law, NI Assembly

Mike Nesbitt and the wrong side of history

You can probably lose count of the number of times that politicians say they have got into politics so that they can do the “right thing”. It is a noble objective an although you may disagree with how they define the right thing you would expect them when they know what the right thing is to head that way and do it.

It is therefore a little shocking the line his speech and subsequent comments that Mike Nesbitt made in his speech yesterday at the Ulster Unionist conference about same sex marriage. Yesterday he said:

“We also need to think about the cold spot that is how we are perceived by members of the LGB&T community. What if it was your son? Your daughter? What would you want for them? What would you offer them? I hope the answer is Unconditional Love.

“Some of us support same sex marriage, some do not, and it’s part of the beauty of the Ulster Unionist Party that we can respect each other’s positions.

“I shall not labour the point today, but to those of us who cannot bring ourselves to support same sex marriage, I say this – we are on the wrong side of history. There is a new generation coming and they simply do not understand why there is a problem.”

Sorry Mike this doesn’t really get you out of that cold spot. Indeed the comment you made subsequently such as the ones broadcast on Sunday Politics that reflect that you will not be changing you own vote on 2 November, but that you don’t want this decisions on equality to be left up to the courts seem to sink you deeper into the frost.

How can you expect these decisions not to be left up to the courts when you aren’t prepared to vote for the “right side of history”? If you yourself seem unwilling to move on this issue will any of the others in your party move? The new generation is aware of how you party have largely followed the DUP on this issue. The protestant, unionist or loyalist section of the LGBT+ community and their families look at the stance that you and the UUP have taken on this issue making it look like a sectarian issue.

With the DUP’s constant placing a petition of concern on any debate on same sex marriage the fact that the Nationalist vote in the 90%+ level for and Unionist vote equally against makes them wonder where is there voice. Your answer to them in your speech yesterday was not unconditional love, you continue to place a condition upon that love, you say that civil partnerships are enough for you be happy with that, Marriage is only for a man and a women.

Yet Mike is wanting those people to come to him with unconditional support, when he denies them the unconditional love of which he talks about.

I have been to many of the marriage equality demonstrations over the years and the people there are as diverse in their background as the people of the UK. The biggest moan I hear is where is the unionist voices that are talking for unionist LGBT+ individuals in the Assembly. Yes they have strong voices in the PUP, but they are not in the Assembly where they can affect change.

Mike Nesbitt continues to stand on the wrong side of history but yesterday was trying to reach out to those who will judge what side he and his party were on. Sadly for him the people he was trying to entice don’t have short memories, nor will they forget what side of history the majority of unionism stood on this issue.

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Oh happy [joyous/gleeful/gay] day!

Today is a great day for marriage equality even if it related to two court cases.

First in Belfast the High Court gave the go ahead for the judicial review into the ban on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland going ahead. It is the first step of a long process. Seeing as some of the politicians on the hill and in a few of our council chambers are refusing to budge on this issue yet again the LGBT+ community of Northern Ireland have had to lean on the will of the courts once again.

Meanwhile in Washington the US Supreme Court has ruled that equal marriage is a constitutional right that should extend to all fifty states.

This latest verdict takes away one of the lynchpins of DUP opposition. There was always the argument that the largest nation in the free world did not have equal marriage across the whole nation so the UK did not have to do likewise. Well that has now changed and with the exception of Germany who like Northern Ireland have the largest party a union of fundamentalist Christians the rest of the Western World is now moving towards marriage equality.

Peter Lynas will no doubt to continue to argue that we should call Northern Ireland a backwater on the issue of marriage equality. But when your list of nations to compare us to now is largely Eastern Europe, Africa (where some want to lock up or kill all the LGBT community) and China. It is hardly the company that civilised society should aim to be keeping.

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New term, same old prejudice

The MLAs are back up on the hill but already the list of motions and proposed amendments makes for horrid reading for the LGBT community.

One of North Down’s DUP MLAs Peter Weir on the 1 September one that reads:

Equal Marriage

That this Assembly notes that numerous Motions have reaffirmed that no support exists for the introduction of equal marriage; and agrees that further consideration would be pointless during the remainder of this Assembly term.

In other words seeking to place an almost 2 year petition of concern on any further discussion on the issue until after the elections in May 2016. This would even therefore no doubt continue the DUP’s contempt of judicial process were a legal challenge be raised in Northern Irish courts about the inequality of equal marriages from the rest of the UK being only recognised a civil partnerships here, or the fact that LGBT people here do not have equal access to marriage as the remainder of the UK.

There is also one that is more innocently worded again from Mr Weir and his West Tyrone colleague Tom Buchanan:

Conscience Clause

That this Assembly notes the increasing number of cases across the UK in which the freedom of religion is afforded a lesser priority than other fundamental freedoms; acknowledges that this gradation of fundamental rights often leads to people of faith leaving their employment or being forced out of business; and calls on the Minister for Employment and Learning to bring forward legislation to introduce a conscience clause for people of faith to allow them to exercise religious freedom in the workplace.

This is the oh my god moment, pardon the pun. For a start freedom of religion is not afforded anything less than other freedoms, they are all treated equally. But the wording of this clause is to make freedom of religion superior to all others. Allowing people of faith the ability of exercise their religious freedom in the workplace means that small business owners could because of the loose wording of this proposal refuse to serve people whose lifestyle they disagree with. We all know that this will not necessarily affect unmarried heterosexuals in the same way that it will affect homosexuals. If two men or women walk in together some of those who cry out about their religious freedom are far more likely to turn them away than two people of opposite sex.

This is further backed up by another DUP motion in the name of Paul Girvan (Lagan valley) and Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) which names a specific high profile case of the above:

Reasonable Accommodation in Equality Legislation

That this Assembly notes with concern the action taken by the Equality Commission against Ashers Bakery; and calls for a review of equality legislation that will provide reasonable accommodation for the religious beliefs of service providers in the provision of goods, services and facilities.

The fact is that of course initially this business took and order then under discussion turned it down. The proximity of a bakery to the city centre must surely mean that they must get all manner of requests for custom cakes for organisations based in the city centre does Ashers have to agree with the aims of every one of them before taking an order? This is company who has claimed that they faith is paramount yet while their shops themselves are closed on a Sunday in respect of their faith their products are available in Garden Centres and shops that do open on a Sunday with their branding on them. But it is another call for a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs again against only one other minority sector as laid out in Section 75.

Of course all of these have merely been laid before the business committee there is no date for when or even if they will come before the committee but there are three direct attacks on the LGBT community one clear it its intention that no matter what progress may be made elsewhere on equal marriage there is no way that the DUP is going to allow legislation to move on before 2016.

The other two are more thinly veiled but a reading between the lines of them shows what their intent is. The conscience clause was mentioned in light of the Ashers case and it was clear that the DUP spokespeople wanted to have religious freedom usurp equality irregardless of sexual orientation.

So there are three motions laid down by members of the DUP that aim to either place religion above the rights of LGBT people to be treated equally, and in one a way to stifle debate for 2 years on an issue that is fast changing across the USA and the world as we speak. The continuation of the DUP to institutionalise their homophobia through the niceties of Assembly procedure and their veiled attempt to bring in animal farm style all freedoms are equal but some are more equal than others is a horrifying read in this the 21st Century.

 

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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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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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In response to Dr Hazlett Lynch

Those of us in Northern Ireland who read the Newsletter letters page are well aware of Dr J E Hazlett Lynch. He makes another appearance in today’s letters page with the following:

MAY I use your columns to ask if anyone knows what the position of the churches is after the close victory in the Assembly (50:45) in favour of the traditional view of marriage?

I know that some of those politicians who voted against marriage as understood in the scriptures and who abstained or absented themselves from that vote claim to be church members.

Do the churches of which these politicians are members still hold to the biblical understanding of marriage and, if so, are they prepared to tolerate those within their membership who have publicly either voted against and undermined church teaching and/or absented/abstained from the vote?

What steps will churches take to discipline those who acted thus?

There have been many cases in ecclesiastical history that the church has taken different views on a number of issues. Something that an historian like Dr Lynch should be aware of. The abolition of slavery, universal suffrage for women and before that female property rights and mixed race marriage; all have these have seen Christians on different sides of the argument. Here in Northern Ireland we even saw one Christian side gerrymandering election districts to keep the other out as recently as the 1960s and 70s at the behest of their Churches. Also one of our Churches leaders as an elected representative to the European Parliament was ejected for calling the Pope the anti-Christ as recently as 1988. So when we call for our politicians to follow the

Indeed if any lesson should be drawn from history it is this pastor from a church in Missouri recently.

So in answer to Dr Lynch’s question there hasn’t been an established church in the island of Ireland since 1871 and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. So the church does not have a direct role in the government of our nation.  We also have The Agreement which sets out a number of freedoms which include:

Human Rights
1. The parties affirm their commitment to the mutual respect, the civil
rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community. Against
the background of the recent history of communal conflict, the parties
affirm in particular:

• the right of free political thought;
• the right to freedom and expression of religion;
• the right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations;
• the right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means;
• the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity;

That right to free political thought applies to members of churches as much as the non-churched. There is also a freedom and expression of each individual’s religion, which includes to what extent they separate their personal faith from their public responsibilities. This may be the issue that Dr Lynch cannot comprehend, it is possible to have a faith yet listen to the needs and wants of those that do not share that faith, or even just one interpretation of that faith, and come to a conclusion of what is best that isn’t solely blinkered by one’s religious world view.

What Dr Lynch and many others who take the view that those of faith betrayed their faith missed from the motion was that there was a call for strong protection to be put into legislation so that those who held a particular faith few that was contrary would not be persecuted for disagreeing. Therefore managing to cover a number of the freedoms listed above, ironically while also supporting possibly the position of their own faith group while voting in favour of equal marriage.

Of course there are biblical laws on all sorts of issues including adultery that result in a death penalty, yet we don’t follow all those rulings from Leviticus and Deuteronomy to the letter. Yet I don’t see cries for church discipline to be brought in for those other underminings of the tradition view of marriage, just to keep it in context.

However, the myopia of Dr Lynch over the way the motion was worded does not prevent him calling on those who have exercised both their freedom of political thought to have the same bearing as their freedom to expression of religion. He is saying that the latter should take precedence over the former when to govern fully both need their freedom, something that the original motion did take into consideration.

That my dear Doctor is my response to you on this issue.

 

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Attitude Magazines Politician of the Year


Last night the Attitude Magazine awards were handed out.

It is with great pride for us in the Liberal Democrats that Lynne Featherstone has been named their politician of the year. Until recently she was the Equalities Minister working to bring forward the consultation leading soon to legislation on equal marriage. Also working with our sports governing bodies to wipe out homophobia and transphobia in sports. With our schools to deal with homophobic and transphobic bullying.

Within hours of announcing that the Government would be launching a consultation on how to bring equal marriage into England and Wales at party conference in Autumn 2011, she was applauded at the LGBT+ Lib Dems AGM. But also fielded questions about why it was only partial party policy that she was bringing in. Last night she was being applauded for going further than Labour managed to go when they had a majority Government and fighting hard against some hard line Conservative opposition (including some in the cabinet) to bring equal marriage so far to the fore and along the road.

Other awards including TV Personality of the Year to Clare Balding for a stellar year in sports presenting.

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Statement on marriage equality debate

This afternoon Stephen Glenn, co-ordinator of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland, sat in the gallery of the Assembly while our MLAs debated the motion from the Green Party and Sinn Féin about marriage equality. He was not alone as a large number of equal marriage campaigners were there in the hope that the DUP’s petition of concern would prove to be the only way this motion could be defeated. Sadly it was defeated by four votes even without it.

Forty five of our MLAs did vote for it, one sole unionist voice, that of Basil McCrea spoke in favour despite saying “many in my community are deeply uneasy about it”. He went on to challenge those who said we cannot redefine marriage by pointing out that our state had in the past about many reformed groups including Presbyterians. Before saying something that pretty much summed up the concept of this motion:

“Allowing one group to use a word does not diminish its use by another, and the context will be understood by all. Society accepting equal marriage does not mean that everyone has to agree with the practice.”

However, one minister speaking in a ‘personal’ capacity said the motion was ‘pointless’ and a ‘worthless course to follow’. Another, who responsibility presenting the legislation would be said “I have no intention of bringing forward any legislation to this House to facilitate gay marriage” even before a democratic vote was taken on the issue to ask him to do so.

Speaking after the debate Stephen Glenn said:

“It was great to have this debate take place in Stormont today, it is sign that we have come a long way. I’d like to praise those MLAs and parties that have taken a stance today for equal marriage and the LGBT community, even though the votes did not go in favour. I know that many have come on a long journey both individually and collectively to stand beside the LGBT community today on this issue.

“However, it is sad that a Democratic Unionist Minister should state in his speech that he would fail to act even if a democratic vote, not then taken, asked him to on this matter. While another unionist minister considered it pointless and a worthless cause. This isn’t a sectarian issue despite the petition of concern and how the vote looked today, and I’d particularly like to thank Basil McCrae and his two party colleagues for their support in the division today.

“Bizarrely, after the Covenant celebrations, it seems the unionist side is less able to debate civil freedoms without religious overtones as those that feared Home Rule would bring a hundred years ago. So even though a motion on a tough issue managed to address civil and religious freedom for all it was knocked down. In the words of Mr Wilson they have chosen a road and are unable to facilitate, or even contemplate trying to facilitate other routes.

“However, with 45 MLAs voting for we know that the pendulum of political and public opinion has swung a fair way from previous debates on LGBT issues.”

Local party chair John O’Neill added:

“It is profoundly disappointing, to the NI Liberal Democrats, and to all the people of Northern Ireland, that the Assembly has voted to reject marriage equality. The agreements which instituted the Assembly, and from which its authority is derived, have at their heart equality of citizenship. Not just across the Unionist-Nationalist dyad, but across the whole of the increasingly diverse Northern Ireland, which we all celebrate.

“It is sad that the political representatives of the first nation within the United Kingdom to institute Civil Partnerships have today rejected the obvious next step in the full equalisation of same-sex relationships. However, we are confident that, as debate on this matter continues at Westminster, Cardiff and Holyrood, this is not the last time that this matter will be addressed at Stormont. We are confident also that our MLAs will look to the decisions made in other capitals of the UK, and will not impose second-class citizenship upon the Lesbian and Gay citizens of Northern Ireland.

“Meanwhile,we will continue to work to persuade others both in office and those who elect them to achieve our party’s policy on equal marriage here in Northern Ireland, as our colleagues do so elsewhere in the UK.”

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Filed under Equal Marriage, equality, Stormont

Equal Marriage to be debated at Stormont

The Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats would like to congratulate Green Party MLA Steven Agnew, along with the Sinn Féin MLAs Bronwyn McGahan and Catríona Ruane on getting an Equal Marriage motion tabled for a plenary debate before the Assembly on 1st October. The text of the motion reads:

Equal Marriage

“That this Assembly believes that all couples, including those of the same sex, should have the right to marry in the eyes of the State and that, while religious institutions ought to continue to have the right to define, observe and practise marriage within the bounds of their institutions, all married couples, including those of the same sex, should have the same legal entitlement to the protections, responsibilities, rights, obligations and benefits afforded by the legal institution of marriage; calls on the Minister of Finance and Personnel to introduce legislation to guarantee that couples of any sex or gender identity receive equal benefit; and further calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to ensure that all legislation adheres to the Government’s commitments to promote and protect equality for all.”

We have less than 2 weeks to get writing to our MLAs to urge them to support this motion. So the Equal Marriage NI campaign is going to have a very busy two weeks. The motion contains the element of religious groups not being forced to do anything very much in line with the Alliance Party’s recently passed policy.

However, parties like the UUP and SDLP have yet to show how they will stand on such a motion. The above does maintain freedom of religion while seeking to increase equality. It is actually the first home grown LGBT motion to be discussed before the Assembly and it is calling on the departments responsible to bring forward the legislation.

There is slight worry that there was a parallel motion tabled in the name of the leader of the UUP Mike Nesbitt and his party colleague Danny Kinahan. The title for a start show a lack of understanding of the issues, theirs instead of being called Equal Marriage is called Same Sex Marriage. It reads:

“That this Assembly recognises the diverse views which are held on the issue of same sex marriage; further recognises the concerns of religious institutions with regard to changes to the current definition of marriage; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to ensure that adequate equality legislation is in place.”

It appears to be a counter motion, which only seeks to ring lock the concerns of the religious institutions without taking into account certain of the diverse opinions that it gives passing mention to at the start. Surely in recognising the diverse opinions something has got to be done about all those diverse opinions and this motion (which we do not think has been selected) will probably form the basis of the counter argument.

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Filed under Equal Marriage, NI Assembly