Tag Archives: equality

Democratic in name alone #equalmarriage

Today is the morning after a momentous day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashers found to have discriminated

Today the full judgement of in the case of Gareth Lee v Ashers Baking Co. Limited, Daniel McArthur and Karen McArthur was handed down in court.

In her judgement Judge Brownlie found that the company and the McArthurs directly discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of religious belief and/or political opinion [paragraph 66].That Daniel and Karen McArthur directly discriminated against Mr Lee on the ground of his sexual orientation [para 46] because they had the knowledge or perception that Mr Lee was gay and/or associated with others who were [para 39]

She also stated that the company were not a religious organisation but a business existing for profit and therefore not exempt from the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.

In concluding she made the following finding:

[93]  This compelling analysis of the necessity of the Human Rights and Equality jurisprudence articulates all I could have hoped to say albeit not so fluently to demonstrate that the law must protect all. It must protect the rights of the Defendents to have and to manifest their religious beliefs but it also recognises that the rights of the Plaintiff not to be discriminated because of his sexual orientation.

If the Plaintiff was a gay man who ran a bakery business and the Defendants as Christians wanted him to bake a cake with the words “support heterosexual marriage” the Plaintiff would be required to do so as, otherwise; he would, according to the law be discriminated against the Defendants. This is not a law which is for one belief only but is equal to and for all.

The Defendants are entitled to continue to hold their genuine and deeply held religious beliefs and to manifest them but, in accordance with the law, not to manifest them in the commercial sphere if it is contrary to the rights of others

Speaking of the decision Northern Ireland’s representative on the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Executive Stephen Glenn said:

“This ruling shows the importance of the Human Rights Act and the equality legislation as it currently stands in striking a balance between the rights and responsibilities of conflicting opinions and beliefs. Something that our party has already stood up against the erosion of by the current Westminster government.

“It also champions the rights of LGBT+ individuals to be treated equally under the law as anyone else. We are not seeking to have special rights merely the same rights to go about perfectly legal activities without fear of someone denying us goods, facilities or services.

“While I hope this is the end of this particular matter, past experience is that Christian Institute backed cases of this type will be challenged to the nth degree through every level of appeal. I personally wish for the sake of Daniel McArthur and his family that this added pressure, scrutiny and attention is not allowed to continue and further hurt and heap pressure on them.

“The Northern Liberal Democrats also fear the reaction to this ruling by some of our politicians. The statement of the Judge that “this is not a law which is for one belief only but is equal to and for all” is something that I hope Northern Ireland politicians heed. There is no need for a conscience clause, indeed implementing one would eventually also open up the rights of people who oppose the views of people with genuine, deeply held faith to exercise their conscience.”

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Summary of the Ashers court case

Today ended the third day of the court case of Gareth Lee v Ashers Ltd. in Laganside Court Belfast. A good source of in court reporting was the Tweets of Belfast Telegraph Deborah McAleese. It is largely from there that we have pulled the following facts from the proceedings.

The facts of the purchase:

The first thing to note is that the order was placed at the Royal Avenue branch of Ashers six stores. For those who do not know Belfast this is the main shopping street in Belfast City Centre. The store is only slightly down the road on the other side of the street from Tesco and the Castle Court shopping centre is across the street on the other side. This location is also less than 5 minutes walk from the LGBT Centre on Waring Street where Queer Space who were ordering the cake and Gareth Lee was based, also Gareth had used them many times before, which ought to shut up conspiracy theorists.

The order was talked about with Karen McArthur, the mother of the general manager and herself a director of the company. She did not tell Mr Lee that there would be any issues with the cake but took full payment along with the order. There was no design work having to be done by Ashers as the artwork was provided with the order.

The cake was to have the name of the campaign organisation Queen Space and the message Support Gay Marriage. No mention of Ashers on the cake.

There was a leaflet displaying Ashers cake service which the members of the McArthur family admitted doesn’t mention any limitations to graphics that can be provided.

The evidence of Karen McArthur

She said she knew in her heart at the time she took the order that the company could not complete the order. She said that the reason she did not tell Mr Lee this at the time was because she didn’t want to embarrass him or cause a confrontation in the shop.

The reason Mrs McArthur knew she would be unable to complete the order was the message was contrary to her Christian belief. However, he also acknowledged that they leaflet also carried pictures of a Halloween cake with witches on it.

She also when asked, “Do you not think you should have immediately told Mr Lee (the order would not be fulfilled)?” she replied no.

The evidence of Daniel McArthur

The son and managing director, admitted that after the issue was brought to his attention he raised it with a elder in his church for his view. He also admitted that he had never really thought about the witch imagery being contrary to the same Christian belief, though said he was unaware of that image being on the leaflet as another member of staff had designed it. However, it was pointed out to him in court that the literature had been available for about 2 years.

He also said “We doing it in defiance of the law. Before God it’s not something we could do.” in relation to turning down the order.

The conclusions

The lawyer for Ashers said that this wasn’t a case of sexual discrimination and that a heterosexual ordering the same cake would be turned away. But the lawyer for Mr Lee said that with the word gay on the cake and the messaging it was clearly intended for a group that would involve gay people and supported them, even if the plaintiff wasn’t, therefore it was indirect discrimination.

The lawyer for Mr Lee also said that the reason given in public by the McArthurs for their refusal was based on their religious views. And therefore it was impinging his political and sexual orientation rights. It was also he argued breaching contract law as the payment was taken upon the full conditions being expressed.

The lawyer for the McArthurs argued that they shouldn’t have to put a message they felt unable to endorse unto a cake, but the lawyer for Mr Lee claimed that they weren’t being asked to endorse the message and nobody would ask if the bakery had done on seeing the cake. He finished with the fact that once a barrister enters into a contract to represent someone he doesn’t necessarily have to agree with gay marriage to defend a client over their views of it.

 

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Filed under Equal Marriage, equality, faith, Human Rights, law

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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New equalities minister has voted against equality

Lynne Featherstone who had introduced the equal marriage legislation into Westminster for England and Wales has been replaced by Maria Miller in her role as Equalities Minister within the Home Office. Miller has also picked up the Culture portfolio.

This is rather worrying for a number of reasons.

In May 2008 during the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill she voted for two amendments that treatment required a father and a mother and then a male role model. Both these votes were rejected allowing Lesbian couples to benefit for IVF treatment.

She also voted for the Nadine Dorries’ amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill in 2011 that would have meant women seeking an abortion being required to seek independent counselling from another organisation not linked to a termination provider.

It is somewhat scary that a women with such a narrow view on equality should be brought into this role at such a crucial stage for marriage equality. It appears to be a pandering to the right on this issue bringing in someone so socially conservative into this role just now.

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Sovereign Grand Master and the separation of civil and religious

Millar Farr, Grand Sovereign Master of the Royal Black Institution

As part of his address to the assembled 1,000 members of the Royal Black Institution at Plumbridge, West Tyrone, the Sovereign Grand Master Millar Farr seems to get into a confusion about civil law and religious law. He said:

“In God’s law there is no provision for same-sex marriage. Holy scripture is quite clear on the subject – marriage is between male and female only.

“While man-made laws can be changed, God’s law is unchangeable. How politicians can imagine they have the right to create legislation which is contrary to holy scripture is beyond belief.”

Of course this is not the first time that Millar Farr has used his speaking opportunities in this way.

Now let us look at this in detail, he says that man-made laws can be changed. Now in England and Wales the legislation in question does refer to civil marriage, therefore surely by this reason the Government is at liberty to change civil law it does not prohibit ecclesiastical law from taking whatever line it wants to on the subject. Indeed over time the House of Commons as well as the Northern Irish Parliament have passed Marriage Acts which prohibit or re-permit some of the biblical practices over time.

Therein lies a paradox the state allowed non-Anglican’s to carry out marriage services only in the 1856 Marriage Act. Before that some Christians, the Anglicans, were considered more equal than others. Only they were allowed to be married in their own church. Other denominations while free to worship where they wished had to be married by the Anglican rite, so with my Presbyterian and Baptist background many of my ancestors were deemed to either be not legally married by their own church and/or forced to go through an Anglican rite.

It allowed men to marry their deceased wife’s sister in a 1907 Act and women their deceased husband’s brother in 1921; the latter of these actually was a biblical requirement for a widow without male heir, but had clearly been prohibited. You see our interpretation of what was close kinship had changed over time from what the biblical principle was the widow was expected to bear a son through her dead husbands brother to provide him with an heir, but later this closeness was actually considered incest for a time.

Both these examples show an example of marriage laws being changed either to expand the franchise for all Christian belief, or because the public niceties at the time were not compliant with biblical teaching only to later be changed back. They also show that even the church has changed its view on what constitutes marriage over time and that it is not as set in stone as some anti equal marriage apologists make out.

Now the law of this land had accommodated faith within the Christian and other traditions as far as marriage goes, it has also accommodated those without religion or excluded from religious marriage (maybe due to divorce) the right to marriage through civil marriage. Therefore if the lawmakers want to change the law as Mr Farr suggests they are more than capable of doing so, but as for God’s laws being unchangeable he better look at Peter’s vision at Joppa in Acts 10 and it consequences for a law abiding Jewish Christian.

There is also the other issue of the day about bands marching with his Institution ignoring a request for respect to others and defying a stipulation from the Parade’s Commission. It is because of lack of respect from Loyal Orders and Institutions that anyone seeking to march on the street whether a BB or Scout Church parade, the Royal British Legion, any protest or demonstration of any kind has to jump through the hoops of the Commission. The vast majority of such parades and marches pass off peacefully, yet it is those that fail to show even simple respect to others, the neighbours of the parade, that cause the issues. Most of those that are contentious are through those groups that mark the ancient sectarian divide in one form or another.

I thought that Jesus himself said “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself'” (Matt 22: 37-40). Maybe Mr Farr should concentrate of the greatest two elements of God’s law first and foremost from himself, his institutions members and the bands who march with them.

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Worrying insight into prejudice in Northern Ireland

The Equalities Commission Northern Ireland’s report Do You Mean Me? published today has some startling findings of hardening of negative attitudes here in Northern Ireland, whether that be race, disability or sexual orientation over the last 6 years.

Taken from Equality Commission Northern Ireland report   Do You Mean Me? (2012)

The key headline figures for the LGBT community make scarey reading.

The report found that 27% would mind a gay, lesbian or bisexual person living next door, compared to 14% in 2005, while 42% unhappy about them becoming an in-law, a rise of 13 percentage points over the last six years.

Around a third of people (35%) would mind a transgender person as a work colleague, rising to 40% as a neighbour and 53% as an in-law. This is the first time a major survey in Northern Ireland has considered attitudes towards transgender persons.

Comparing the transgender hostility to the traveling community, where the worst racial negativity was directed, which saw 27% mind having someone from that community as a work colleague 54% as a neighbour and 55% as an in-law, means that Trans are one of the most negatively perceived groups in Northern Ireland, while the Lesbian, gay and bisexuals score worse than migrant workers in all areas except the work place.

You can see that the perception of people from different religion once the be all and end all of Northern Ireland prejudice is down at the bottom along with learning or physical disability there is room for a lot more work on creating a safe shared future for other groups. The emphasis on sectarianism based on religion has it seems had a result, but the other equality groups have been left behind.

We need an attitude change from our political leaders, many of whom are scathing about LGBT people. This has rubbed off on the rest of Northern Ireland society it is not good enough for those at the forefront of public life to keep ignoring these feelings of unease. As the commissions chief executive Michael Wardlow says:

“This is a worrying insight into the population’s psyche and proves that much work remains to be done to break down barriers in our mindsets to create a fairer and more equal society for everyone in Northern Ireland.”

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Second Class LGBT Citizens once Again

With the Westminster Government announcing its consultation into equal marriage, and the Scottish Parliament currently considering the responses to its similar consultation, once again two speed UK leaves those of us who are LGBT behind in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where gay couples cannot adopt.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where men who have had sex with men cannot give blood after 12 months of no MSM sex but ever.

And now Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where there is no consultation, or apparently even active consideration of marriage equality.

We have a First Minister who is Unionist, yet his party the DUP drag their heels on equality issues when it comes to LGBT community. Yet they shouldn’t do as sexual orientation is one of the diversity groups that was enshrined in the Northern Ireland Act. Of course the fact that one of the last groups from Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act to get their own strategy, yet to be published but promised this year, is LGBT. We have one future minister even saying that those that take part in Belfast Pride to point out that we are treated as second class citizens considers us repugnant.

We have a Sinn Féin deputy First Minister whose party while sympathetic to the needs of the LGBT community have it way down their agenda. Though their Lord Mayor did take his place at the front of the Belfast Pride parade as it walked around city hall last year.

Members of the UUP, SDLP and Alliance have all be very much supporters of the LGBT Community and senior members of all three have been seen at Belfast Pride events, not just the political discussions but at the parade itself.

As far as I know, and I will happily be corrected on this, there are only two parties with an active LGBT group in Northern Ireland the Greens and ourselves. That gives a total of one MLA representing a party that has an LGBT group within it asking the questions of why as British subjects we are lagging on LGBT equality when under direct rule we were actually at the forefront.

There was a debate on the Stephen Nolan show this Monday, following the letter to the Catholic Churches in England and Wales, on the subject of equal marriage. What came across was the anger at the vast majority of religious people who called in to the show, compared to the relative calm of those in support of equal marriage (not all of them LGBT).

Maybe for the sake of the collective blood pressure of the literalists of selective verses in the Law of Moses while they happily admit Jesus did away with a vast majority of the rest, the NI Assembly should start a consultation, let everyone have their say, they carry out their impact analysis on the various Section 75 groups on the results they get.

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Ice Cream for Equal Marriage

Ben and Jerry's Apple-y Ever After

Ben and Jerry’s the American Ice Cream manufacturers are not shy in making political points through their products. Indeed as many of their customers will continue to buy their products because of the high level of values both in quality of product and fair trade that they hold, as well as other issues.

Their latest point is the renaming of their Oh my! Apple Pie! flavour into Apple-y Ever After. Also on the carton will be a wedding cake decorated with rainbow ribbons and topped with two grooms or two brides. In conjunction with Stonewall they have after renaming Chubby Hubby as Hubby Hubby to celebrate the extension of equal marriage legislation in their home state of Vermont, changed a name as part of an equal marriage campaign.

The company were one of the first in the USA back in 1993 to broaden their health and employment benefits to recognise unmarried domestic partners regardless of sexual orientation. They even on their own website under their Our Values section included a page to explain why they have done this.

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Campaign for Marriage ad “too offensive” for WI

The Coalition for Marriage campaign may have been launched with the help of Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Cantebury, however their advert has failed to pass Women’s Institute muster.

Yes, even the WI find the ad by the group who want to keep marriage only between a man and a women too offensive for the Institute’s magazine WI Life.

“We are a national campaigning charity and your campaign doesn’t fit with any of our resolutions first and foremost.

“As WI Life is the national membership magazine, any promotion of your campaign could be seen as an endorsement . . . to members.

“We do also welcome all women to the WI and this campaign could offend many of our members.”

It’s good to have the WI looking out for the effect this may have on some of their members. Especially, when you have word’s like ‘grotesque distortion of a universal human right’ or ‘cultural vandalism‘ being branded about to describe equal marriage, comparisons to ‘slavery‘ or ‘dictatorship‘ being used to describe holding a public consultation on the issue. Those comments coming from the religious leaders who are meant to preach love.

The Coalition for Marriage clearly thought that the WI shouldn’t care for everyone that reads their publication, much as the Catholic Church in England and Wales didn’t when reading out its letter yesterday. Their response:

“It’s a surprising and unnecessary decision. Most ordinary members will see this as an over-reaction.”

Bizarrely the same comment could be put about most people to the coalitions reaction and language to the whole issue of extending equality to civil marriage to those couples of both hetero- and hom0sexual orientation.

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