Friday, 6 July 2012

Equal Marriage in Northern Ireland #equalmarriageNI

The first meeting of #EqualMarriageNI
Picture © 2012 Tyler James McNally used with permission
The God particle wasn't just discovered at CERN you know. No! Last night here in Northern Ireland there was a certain element of God that was present at the launch of Equal Marriage Northern Ireland.

Queen's University Belfast LGBT called together a meeting of many interested parties to get this issue not just unto the agenda but with significant momentum behind it to come about. You may have noticed that we are waiting with baited breathe to hear from the Scottish Government's consultation on wide ranging marriage equality, and the Westminster Government's consultation into civil equal marriage (and Unionist politicians please not the next phrase) into just England and Wales. Where is Northern Ireland in all this you may ask.

Well like Scotland marriage laws in Northern Ireland is a devolved issue. Therefore it was good to see some of our MLAs present. Catriona Ruane Sinn Féin and Anna Lo Alliance were present, a MLA from the Ulster Unionists sent his apologies because of a family emergency and the Green's Steve Agnew had prior engagements but had been talking to me about this issue just before I caught my train to Belfast. Amongst those present were students and some councillors as well as members of the SDLP, Labour Party, Lib Dems, Alliance, Sinn Féin, Socialists, The Rainbow Project and some Christians.

Yes even in Northern Ireland there are Christians gay and straight who support equal marriage. Indeed one of those who later got up to speak in the public forum section was an ordained man resplendent in his dog collar.

We know that we have a tough task here in Northern Ireland to bring about legislative change here in Northern Ireland. As was pointed out by a number of speakers we have a process in the Assembly where if 30 or more MLAs can raise a Petition of Concern about any legislation before them. It means that instead of a simple majority a weighted majority of 60% including at least 40% from both the nationalist and unionist sides is required to pass such legislation. It may come as no surprise to anyone that the only positive bits of LGBT equality legislation since devolution, Civil Partnerships, came while under a period of direct rule. While there have been advances in LGBT equality since that elsewhere in the UK they have not happened here.

Me making my comments
Picture © 2012 Tyler James McNally used with permission

After there were arguments on both why we should aim to get Stormont to take action and why it was a dead sheep and that the courts once against should be our pathway. I got up to say what if we did get the 60% and failed to get the 40% on one or other of the sides (either of the largest parties fully whipped could accommodate such an outcome). What we would have would be the failure of cross community support for the wrong communities. The LGBT community and indeed those supportive of the LGBT community in this aim is neither unionist nor nationalist it is a cross 'community' community. In the room last night were representatives of both sides. I pointed out that such cross community support or failure was the wrong cross community support on these issue. The fact that there are no openly LGBT MLAs shows that on this issue the weighting should be within the straight and the LGBT identified MLAs. A show of overwhelming support in the Assembly even if it were crushed by the weighted majority required by a petition of concern could be a starting point that this issue is alive.

Of course yesterday wasn't the start of people campaigning for Equal Marriage in Northern Ireland but it was the coming together of many individuals and groups who have been and will be working towards that goal.

As the Olympics are approaching I am reminded of my running days. Northern Ireland may no longer be at the front of the pack as we were when the first Civil Partnerships in the UK took place in Belfast, but I've seen team Northern Ireland and we are ready to put in a strong kick towards the line.

1 comment:

  1. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in a web of inescapable mutually, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly".
    Martin Luther King