Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Equal Marriage to be debated in Stormont

There is some good news here in Northern Ireland on the subject of Equal Marriage. Green Party MLA Steven Agnew, along with the Sinn Féin MLAs Bronwyn McGahan and Catríona Ruane have got a Private Member 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 for supporters here 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.

Things will not be straightforward here in Northern Ireland as even a sensible motion like that above will not be enough to overcome of the prejudices of many who will go through the division lobbies when this goes to the vote. There is a distinct inability in many to separate Church and State here. Even though the motion to be debated lays out that that separation will be maintained and is actually calling on OFMdFM to come up with appropriate legislation to make this possible many will still say this is a Westminster thing and not something that needs to come to Northern Ireland. At least Mike Nesbitt recognises there is a diversity of opinions on this, I just hope that our MLAs manage to come to terms with this diversity of views and allow equality to move forward.

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