Saturday, 18 August 2012

Dear @mikenesbittni, it is my tune too and I'm not republican

I'm rather shocked by the statement from Mike Nesbitt the leader of the UUP sent to party members after the regret by Cllr Crawford using the word disease to talk about gay people (as I wrote about yesterday).

First up he says:
"[Equal Marriage] continues to give local political parties problems, even though there is no realistic prospect of it being introduced in Northern Ireland"

Wow! Most of the people of Northern Ireland remember when there seemed no realistic prospect of the IRA ending their armed struggle and giving up their arms. Many remember when there was no realistic change of council chambers or a devolved assembly working with Sinn Féin being allowed to be part of either. Even more recently many thought there was no realistic possibility of a DUP/Sinn Féin partnership in OFMdFM. Yet all of these things came to pass.

So lets not say that anything is not a realistic prospect. We are after all meant to be taking about a shared future and some in Northern Ireland want part of that future to allow couples of the same-sex to have the same marriage rights as mixed-sex couples.

He then goes on:

"Despite this, Sinn Fein are using this sensitive issue for self-interest and promotion. Please do not dance to a republican tune."

No when Equal Marriage Northern Ireland held its first meeting there were indeed Sinn Féin members in the room, but there were also members from parties an an apology from a member of Mr Nesbitt's own party. In fact there were republicans and unionists, protestants and catholics in that room. Something that I mae a point of in the comments that I made. This is truly a cross community issue, crossing the old divides that Northern Ireland is infamous for.

The tune Mr Nesbitt is therefore most certainly not a republican one.

He went on to say:

"I affirm that all members are free to offer their personal view on the concept, but there is no opportunity to vote, except those engineered by Sinn Fein."

Well here in lies the reason why there may be no realistic prospect of equal marriage becoming law in Northern Ireland. Despite as I said those affected by there not being equal marriage being from both the 'communities' historical of Northern Irish divide we have a situation where a simple majority in Stormont, whose gift marriage is under, may not be enough.

We have a mechanism call a petition of concern. If 30 MLAs (and there are 38 in the DUP alone) raise a petition of concern on anything before the Assembly it would require a 60% majority and 40% of both the unionist and nationlists present.

So while the UUP see marriage equality a solely a republican engineered, self-promotion exercise they are unlikely to help any vote get to the floor of the Assembly. The motion by Green MLA Steven Agnew on this issue already was timed out in the last session. So is Mr Nesbitt saying Mr Agnew is dancing to a republican tune. I've met Mr. Agnew's wife and child so I can assume he isn't wanting equal marriage out of self-interest. I've spoken to him about this issue (he is after all one of my MLAs) and I know that he is doing it for the greater good of the community at large.

As for the fact that votes are being brought by Sinn Féin, they are currently the largest party with representation on most councils who have made up their party's stance and the ability to table such motions. I hope that should the Alliance Party come to their own positive conclusion on this issue that they will bring motions in other councils where Sinn Féin maybe aren't represented (like my own). I hope that both do so with support from each other and any Green party Councillor that may be available.

Mr Nesbitt concludes saying he supports equality for all saying:

"For me, that means demonstrating compassion, being mindful of the sensitivities surrounding the issue and to being careful not to use language which might offend."

Currently we have three of the other nations that make up the Unite Kingdom some way along the path to introducing equal marriage it seems. Therefore I'm rather confused at how equality for all can leave the LGBT community of Northern Ireland not equal with fellow British Subjects or even just residents.

Back to the first point about marriage equality not being a realistic prospect in Northern Ireland. I've spent the majority of my adult live living elsewhere in the UK. Most of my adult relationships have been with people from elsewhere in the UK and taken place elsewhere in the UK. I'm not ruling out the chance of that happening again in the future (it all depends where I do end up finding work).

Therefore should I at some point get married in England, Wales or Scotland to someone of the same-sex and we return to Northern Ireland either on holiday or to live, would we be considered married or civil partnered, seeing as we would have never been the latter.

Of should a Transgendered person after they are allowed to remain married come to live and work in Northern Ireland, will they be forced to divorce their partner as currently happens in the UK and then go through a civil partnership only in this part of the UK.

There most certainly are questions of equality that need to be addressed on this. I for one appreciate the fact that Sinn Féin get it, that the Greens get it, that some of those I know in the Alliance get it, and indeed some people I trust in the UUP and SDLP get it as well.

 Does any of the other parties getting this issue make me any more likely to vote for them (well we use STV, and I vote down the ballot, so I may have to say rank more highly)?

Probably not.

But I already rank those individuals or parties who seem to only have a 2 dimensional view of the Northern Ireland communities, and only see issues as being between 2 sections of community rather lowly. It appears that Mike Nesbitt is not prepared to take a party stance on more than certain dimensions of a shared future and is willing to leave other aspects to conscious, even when it fails many, and makes them feel like second class citizens in their own country.

The language of 'no realistic prospect of equal marriage being introduced in Northern Ireland' of it being a 'Republican tune' of equal marriage votes being 'engineered' by one of the parties who gets it, and knows it is for all sections of our divide. This sort of language for a leader of one of Northern Ireland's parties offends me.

It offends me because it shows that he has given up.

It offends me because he is leaving LGBT equality issues to the nationalists and republicans and not standing up for unionist LGBT people.

It offends me that there is just a withdrawal of a word too late and no apology for any offense that has already been caused.

It offends me because it shows he lacks vision and kow tows too much to those that lack sensitivity in the areas of LGBT issues.

It offends me because I have a UUP MLA and no Sinn Féin MLAs an very little chance of the latter. Yet four out of my six MLAs (3 being DUP) seem to lack the ability to answer my questions on LGBT issues as if I do not exist within their electorate.

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