There was an historic moment in Belfast City Council this evening. Mary Ellen Campbell of Sinn Féin brought a motion before full council to support equal civil marriage. It was passed without any votes against, making Belfast the first council in all of Ireland to support same-sex couples seeking to have a marriage.
But that isn't all the story. All the Unionist Councillors walked out, except for the Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson (no relation to the first minister) while Ms Campbell presented her motion and did not return to vote. The Alliance party sat through the entire thing and then failed to vote either way on the proposal, because apparently they do not have a policy on the issue (correction one of their six Councillors Catherine Curran did vote in favour). The SDLP did have a couple of councillors who spoke in favour of the motion Tim Attwood and Nicola Mallon and those of their members who were still in the chamber voted for the motion.
The shame of the Unionist members not even waiting for the conclusion of business while not surprising is still shameful. But the action of the Alliance Party is what really shocks me. Last year in their party election broadcast they said that they were the party to help see society cherish and respect diversity. The said if we wanted change for a shared and properous future to vote for them. However, by sitting on their hands this evening they have show they are not really leading change at least not in all areas. If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. A vote for the Alliance councillors in Belfast has this even was surely merely to keep things as they always were on this issue of LGBT equality.
I'll be seeking answers for the Alliance Party as to why this motion wasn't supported by them, Why the party has not yet got around to discussing this issue and coming up with a policy on it when the rest of the UK and many of the other parties here clearly already know why they stand. But most of all it they truly stand for a diverse society why are they hindering true equality, merely because it doesn't seem to cover the usual divisions which appears to be the only sense of shared future that they seem to know where they stand on.
I've long held doubts about how truly liberal the Alliance Party here is. I've felt they need division politics to survive as much as the Unionist and Nationist parties do. This evening seems to show me that I have been right not to join them, it appears that there isn't a natural liberal instinct in a lot of them when it comes to matters outwith the historic divisions in Northern Ireland.
It is a shame.
But I don want to end on an upbeat note and thank Mary Ellen Campbell and all those from Sinn Fein and the SDLP who did vote in favour of equal marriage tonight. There are only four words that are appropriate "go raibh maith agat". For those of you not fluent in Gaelic I'll summate that in two words "thank you".