Friday 28 March 2014

All people are equal, but some are about to be more equal than others

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In a few short hours same-sex couples will start to get married in England and Wales. They could honeymoon in Scotland as a married couple, but should they want to visit the Giant's Causeway, the Titanic Quarter or the Marble Arch caves here in Northern Ireland they will only be civil partnered.

"What??" I hear you say.

Yes one of the lesser known parts of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act is that those wonderfully new same-sex marriages that everyone is celebrating getting closer to reality will not been seen as marriages in part of the UK.

Of course many people know that Northern Ireland is not for the time being following swiftly on the heels of England and Wales, as Scotland is, by introducing equal marriage. But did you know that is a place that fights over whether the Union Flag is to be flown or not. Where the First Minister is a staunch defender of the Queen, her flag and all things British that not all UK marriages from 29 March 2014 onwards are going to be recognised in the most staunchly loyal part of Her Majesty's Kingdom.

If a same-sex couple from Northern Ireland get married in England or Wales tomorrow (or any time after that), or if a same-sex couple from England, Wales or Scotland relocate here their marriage will only be a civil partnership.

So while you are celebrating all the new marriages that are possible from midnight please don;t forget that we are far from equal here in Northern Ireland and a lot of work still needs to be done.

Monday 24 March 2014

In the press again #equalmarriage

On St. Patrick's Day the following letter appears in both the Belfast Telegraph and Newsletter under the headers: "Gay 'marriage' plans: the bill will be millions" and "Gay 'marriage' causing fiasco over legislation."

The British Government now realises that same-sex 'marriage' will require a massive rewrite of legislation dating back to 1285.

Over 2,000 laws referring to marriage have to be changed at a cost of many millions of pounds and all to support a whim of David Cameron, who is determined to push ‘gay marriage’ through despite the majority of the population objecting to it, including many gay people.

The Government plans to take the word 'husband' and 'wife' out of legislation and replace them with 'partner' or 'spouse'.

he proposed change for the word 'widow' is the phrase 'woman whose deceased partner was a man'.
Other legislative changes are to be made to prevent a man becoming queen in the event of a king 'marrying' a man, to stop a man from becoming the Princess of Wales, should the Prince of Wales enter into a same-sex ‘marriage’ and to ensure the 'husband' of a male peer is not referred to as lady, duchess or countess.
This ill-thought-out fiasco is to be funded by the taxpayer.

The Republic of Ireland, and other countries, need to be on their guard to stop their governments foisting similar misguided legislation on them.

Dr Owen Gallagher
Co Antrim

The first thing I noticed was the highly accurate estimate of many millions of pounds. Now  as an economics graduate and the former employee of a Member of Parliament this was like waving a red rag to a bull. Especially as this was coming at the time that Ben Summerskill was back in my attention with his cost of legislation quote from the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats fringe event in 2010. Where had this figure been plucked from?

Therefore the first place I went to check was the Government's own impact report, something that is carried out by civil servant statisticians (oh yeah I was in a Government department stats branch too in my working life) for every piece of new legislation. So yeah there is a current estimate of cost of implication of between £3.3m and £4.7m. However, as a economist you do not merely factor in the cost but also the benefit. Further down on the same page comes the estimate of benefits between £0.1m and £15.7m.

These figures are over the first 10 years of the legislation and there is notes that the costs of the legislation are not expected to continue past the initial 10 year period but of course that the benefits to the economy will. Indeed the cost of only £4.7m is actually quite small in the grand scheme of things, during the week, after I'd pressed send, we learnt that the new pound coin was going to cost hundreds of millions to implement.

So it was that I took to my keyboard nad had my responses in The Newsletter on Saturday and the Belfast Telegraph today. The unedited text appeared in the former and I include that below, but I was glad that The Newsletter gave me the heading "Economic benefit of equal marriage outweigh the cost" and the Belfast Telegraph "Marriage law costs warning 'a scare' tactic".

Here is the text of the published letter:

I note that Dr Owen Gallagher takes the highly accurate figure of “many millions of pounds” in his letter (March 17) as a reason for Government to think carefully before introducing equal marriage.

However, all new legislation will incur a cost. That is why statisticians work out the impact that legislation will have.

I can only assume that Dr Gallagher is drawing his figure from the Government’s own Impact Assessment of the legislation from August last year which does indeed give a figure of between three and four million pounds as the cost.

However, this report also lists the economic benefit as well, which is put at between four to five times as much as the cost over the first ten years.

While the cost will be up front the benefits will continue beyond that 10-year period.

I would hazard a guess that by merely quoting the costs and not the benefits that Dr Gallagher’s doctorate is not in economics.

However, the costs of the introduction of this legislation are not great in the grand scheme of things.

To try and use this figure, which comes to about five pence a person, as a means to scare people is a cynical misinterpretation of the facts.

You can read more of my published letters down the years on the published letters tab.

Monday 17 March 2014

Sky falling in on St Patrick's Day

Regular followers of me here or on my sporting blog will be aware of my love of cycling. But something that has happened as a result of the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York has thrown me a moral curve ball.

Guinness decided at the eleventh hour yesterday to pull their sponsorship of the parade in New York. This was after they requested that the organisers allow LGBT Irish Groups to march in the parade. Before others say they are allowed to parade, or that other groups don't march behind a banner, this is not the case. Groups do march behind the banner indicating who there are. Many of Ireland's LGBT people did emigrate some to the UK others to America when those places were less LGBT friendly than they are today. Like all such immigrants to the states they are as staunchly proud of their Irish roots as anyone else.

Guinness as part of their decision said:

"Guinness has a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all. We were hopeful that the policy of exclusion would be reversed for this year's parade.

"As this has not come to pass, Guinness has withdrawn its participation. We will continue to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy."

This is good and a brave decision especially as there was a 1.4% drop in share price of Diageo (the  parent company). However, it is the reaction of one media tycoon that leads to my dilemma.

Rupert Murdoch has said on twitter:

Where will this end? Guinness pulls out of religious parade bullied by gay orgs who try to take it over. Hope all Irish boycott the stuff 

It is a pity that Murdoch appears to be boycotting the 21st Century, I think we should boycott all of his stuff. This is easy as Eurosport cover cycling. But there is one issue. The title sponsors of both the GB Cycling Team (pictured) and the British UCI World Tour team is Sky which of course if out of the Murdoch stable. Most of the top British cyclist race for them, they are coming to Belfast in May for the Giro d'Italia and Yorkshire in July for the Tour de France.

After comments like this from Murdoch I'm going to find it very hard to support my favourites with a clear conscious.

Sunday 16 March 2014

How cynical can Ben Summerskill be?

In his parting shot after stepping down as chief executive of Stonewall last month Ben Summerskill has taken one last swipe in today's Observer at the Liberal Democrats over their stance being the first UK-wide party to adopt a policy on equal marriage.

He says we were cynical to pass it just after we entered Government in 2010, but this of course is another case of Summerskill's selective amnesia. The Lib Dems are a Federal Party which sometimes means that party policy can start out in one of the other state parties before it comes to the Federal platform. This is the case for equal marriage it was passed in March 2010 at Scottish conference. Federal conference at around the same time was finalising the UK wide manifesto ahead of the general election therefore there wasn't room on the 2 day agenda then to discuss new policy.

There was also a distinct difference in wording the year after 2010 when the main parties faced the Scottish electorate. SNP were ready to consult on it, Labour were only prepared to promise to allow faith groups to carry out civil partnerships on their premises and consult on the different status between civil partnership and marriage. The Lib Dems and Greens were bold enough to say they would bring equality both to marriage and civil partnerships, while the Conservatives were strangely quiet.

What is cynical is the stance that Stonewall took on the equal marriage debate. A month ahead of the Lib Dems debating it they were silent when Pink News consulting leading organisations about it. Indeed it was a commenter on that post that told me what Stonewall's response was:

"Stonewall are not campaigning against same-sex marriage and never have. Our focus in terms of legal recognition of same-sex relationships is on the practical rights and benefits available to couples. Marriage would give no extra legal rights than those currently available.

"Having secured an amendment to the Equality Act we want the Government to implement the legal changes necessary to allow those religious groups who want to conduct ceremonies on their premises to be able to do so. David Cameron stated his support for this recently."

So  that stance was on a par with the Alli amendment to extend the right to conduct civil partnerships on religious premises (ie ensuring the registrar was off the premises for any religious elements that the couple might want to include).

The night before the debate at the LGBT+ Lib Dems diversity fringe event Ben Summerskill put up the barriers against equal marriage; cost, the feminist movement, need to focus on homophobia. Afterwards Stonewall issued this press statement. During that week I'll give Ben some historical credence for his comments today, then he commented in Attitude:

"Anyone who's involved in campaigning [for equal marriage] should be very cautious about being seduced by politicians in any party who are looking for political advantage and have different imperatives from gay people in the wider world."

Strange then how once Stonewall took up the baton they ignored their chief executives own comments that equal marriage wasn't a different imperative from gay people in the wider world, but that it was their idea all along. Now that in my book is cynicism.

The fact of course is that being Stonewall they only ever saw it in terms of gay marriage, failing to take up the Lib Dem's calls to fairness to those who are transgender and intersex. This was something they did a month after the first party in the UK to make it policy did so saying:

"We seek to secure marriage for gay people as a civil vehicle on the same basis as heterosexual marriage, available in a registry office but without a mandate on religious organisations to celebrate it.

"We seek to retain civil partnerships for lesbian and gay people recognising their special and unique status."

Yeah their initial response, and response ever since, has been to dilute the Lib Dem definition of equality. Only talking about it in the gay context not the whole LGBT spectrum and only seeking to retain CPs for same-sex couples and not expand it mixed-sex couples. So that when they proclaimed that equal marriage was delivered in the UK they were cynical. Those of us who know what equal marriage means know that England and Wales are behind Scotland on trangender issues and on freedom of religion, while Northern Ireland like transgender people don't feature at all on Stonewall's radar.

My own personal history on working out how to get the Lib Dems to accept forming policy on equal marriage goes back before 2010. Indeed in 2009 I posted that I was aware that there were a number of people in the party who would believe it should be a matter of conscience and not something we should form policy on (when it came to the votes in Parliament you can see who some of those high profile members were). This was also the time that along with Liberal Youth Scotland I was already starting to work on forming just such a policy the one that would eventually be passed in Scotland that following March and was largely reflecting in the policy that Ben Summerskill now calls cynical.

I like the fact that Peter Tatchell actually also takes Ben Summerskill to task on this saying:

"An apology would be appreciated. Stonewall does great work but the gay campaign for marriage equality faced an uphill struggle, which was made worse by Stonewall constantly undermining our efforts. Some of the arguments Ben and Stonewall put forward at the time [2010] were quoted by homophobes to justify their opposition to same-sex marriage and this was hugely damaging.

"I am not a supporter of the Liberal Democrats, but on the issue of same-sex marriage the party took an early position, while Stonewall did all it could to sabotage that position. It is unbelievable really."
 I just hope that the new chief executive of Stonewall does get the implications on the transgender community and indeed Northern Ireland that Stonewall's neglect, despite the basis on the name in the entire LGBTQ community would suggest it should include, under Summerskill's watch.

Update 11:58 the one thing I couldn't comment on earlier was the quote upon which Summerskill has hung the entire cynicism claim from our former MP Evan Harris. Thankfully he has tweeted this which shows that far from being cynical he was saying that being in power the Lib Dems should "seize the moment [of being in Government] to push the agenda forward on full equality" something which is based on the constitution of the party.

Saturday 15 March 2014

So this happened...

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This evening I had a notification through Facebook that someone had shared one of my photos. Here is how it was shared.

As you can see I have done the service of blocking out the name of the reposter and the one person who by the time I had seen it liked their attitudes. They did not do me the same keeping the person whose picture they were posting in the link (it can easily be removed). There is potential there for the poster to open somebody that they do not know up to abuse from others who have read their comments and decide to take action.

This person is someone that I do not even know, we only have one friend in common. It is currently up as my cover picture as a celebration of the Scottish Parliament passing their equal marriage legislation and the fact that same-sex marriages are now recognised in England and Wales and will soon also be carried out there.

It is a sad reflection that some Christians consider that any group set up by people of faith who want to help others of faith who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transexual to be able to come to terms with how they are created by God is a group of "filthy disgusting perverts". Sadly as many in the Faith and Pride group know only too well from personal experience once they realise their own sexual orientation, they often find in Northern Ireland that there is little visible support from the overwhelming majority of churches. They are condemned out of hand as the poster above has done as though they are sexually active. It is assumed that if you are LGBT you must be practicing sexual acts with all and sundry and that you have no self control.

Now I'll admit I'm not a saint in that department, but there are times that I have been accused by people in churches for being someone who practices the homosexual lifestyle (yeah that is a phrase I have heard), when at the time I would have been able to give blood anywhere in the UK except Northern Ireland.

However, it is the people who consider that the set of people who have faith and those who are LGBT are exclusive of each other that do harm to all those young people who grow up and worship in their midst for fear of being found out.Thankfully there are more groups like Faith and Pride out there that offer support to those individuals. Sadly we do not always get to all of them in time but other people could show Christ-like love and unconditionally love these people rather than jumping to conclusions such as these and showing nothing but hate for the individual while claiming to "love the sinner and hate the sin". The comments above actually seem to hate the people pictured without knowing anything about any of them.

Update 16:34 15 March:

Our mutual friend stood up to defend me in the comments and the original poster has responded thus:

I don't care WHO he [ie me] is, his photo suggests he supports the evil depraved organisation "Faith and Pride", whose banner is being displayed in the photo... I have read their fb page, and they claim you can be both Christian AND gay! YOU CAN'T! A Christian is someone who has REPENTED, ie turned from all known sin, and placed their faith in Christ to cleanse and purify them, both legally and in reality. Yes, our sins don't all vanish overnight, sanctification takes a lifetime. But "Faith & Pride" actively PROMOTE homosexuality as normal and OK when the bible teaches it is WRONG. The "Faith & Pride" site owner claims to be "married" to another man. "Faith & Pride" contains articles TWISTING and perverting the bible's teaching on homosexuality, claiming that the plain meaning that it's wrong, actually means something else. People who claim you can be gay and Christian are in REBELLION against God. They need to repent, & turn their backs on ANY self-identification as gay, and pray God gives them the ability to be normal. God did not create people gay.

I consider this comment to be a personal attack on someone that they do not know. It is also potentially libelous. I had reported the original post to Facebook, but as with much such occasions of such homophobic comments wrapped up in biblical terms it has been refused. So in my feedback about the decision I have stated how disatisfied I am with this response.


Thursday 13 March 2014

Gold Post Boxes for Uniqueness

Apparently the Royal Mail have stated that they will not paint a mail box gold for Northern Ireland's own golden girl Kelly Gallagher. They say the the 59 gold post boxes for the Olympians and 50 for the Paralympians were for a unique occurrence.

With 109 of them that is new definition of unique.

But initially there were only 106 of them all of which were on the GB part of Team Great Britain and Norther Ireland. The other three were awarded for five gold medals one for Bethany Firth in Seaforde, County Down, and for their two gold medals apiece but just one box Michael McKillop in Glengormley, Antrim and Jason Smyth in Eglington, Londonderry. These three were UK nationals who competed for the Irish Paralympic team.

However, the case for uniqueness is strong for Kelly Gallagher. She is the first Winter Paralympian ever to win a gold since the first Winter Paralympics in 1976. Plus she is the first GB athlete to win on snow in either the Olympics of Paralympics since 1924.

Therefore I am suggesting if the Royal Mail really want to honour uniqueness there should be 8 more gold mail boxes.

Firstly we need a gold mail bow in Mottingham, Kent to honour Launceston Elliot. Although he was born in Tasmania to Scottish parents it was here that Britain's first gold medalist is listed in both the 1891 and 1901 census. At 21 he won that historic, and unique, first medal in those first 1896  games in the one handed lift. We did another Gold in those first Games but painting a Mail Box gold in O'Connell Street, Dublin to honour John Pius Boland's gold in tennis is asking for trouble.

Next up we need the Royal Mail to say #Ilovecurling and provide Scotland with four more gold mail boxes, indeed South Lanarkshire would get three for itself. Edinburgh would need to find another one to paint gold for Robin Welsh, Biggar would deserve one for Tom Murray,  and f there are two mail boxes in Carnwath they need painting for the father and son team of William Kilgour Jackson and his son Laurence. William was the skip in the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France in 1924 of which the other three all member of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club brought home the gold.

There will of course be purists who insist that Kennsington should receive one gold post box instead of Scotland's four to mark the fact that Madge Syers took GB's first gold medal in an ice or snow sport in the 1908 London Olympics. So maybe we should provide one for here uniqueness as well, so make that nine more gold mail boxes.

There will have to either be one in Lacashire where she is from or Watford where she now resides for Margaret Maughan. She was the archer who was the first GB Paralympian to win gold in the 1960 Games which saw 28 gold medals coming back from Rome that year.

As well as these six seven deserving firsts we will also mark the success earlier this week with boxes in Bangor, County Down and Chatham, Kent for Kelly and her guide Charlotte Evans, for their acheivement in the Visually Impaired Super-G.

This would lead to a total of nine new post boxes marking all the firsts now that we have them all. And there will be five for men and four for women.