Friday 30 January 2015

No to the Conscience Clause

Yes tomorrow it may be cold, but a lot of us are assembling at 2pm in Derry/Londonderry 3pm in Belfast and Newry to make our feelings heard about Paul Givan's DUP sponsored "private" member's bill that is currently out to consultation that seeks to rip apart the equality act.

It is a protest against the so called "conscience clause" from a party that has no conscience.

This Thursday we heard a DUP health minister tell BBC's The View that he would have to look at expert opinion on the number of hospitals that Northern Ireland needs. This is the same health minister who is backing the decision of his party colleague and predecessor who ignored expert advice to maintain a total lifetime ban on MSM (men who've had sex with other men) giving blood.

It comes from a party that have failed in over 8 years to publish and action a sexual orientation strategy that was first consulted on back in 2006. A strategy that if published would have dealt with the issues that their knee-jerk conscience clause should not have had to deal with. But then the reason why the delay is probably because the other parties, and public consultations, have not agreed to conscientious objection apart from those already laid out in the equality act regulations.

We've also had a DUP minister for Finance and Personnel, Sammy Wilson, say that he would even rather not have had civil partnerships, when Stormont was debating Equal Marriage in 2011.

The thing is the DUP don't want LGBT Northern Ireland citizens to have equality. In fact they'd far rather take it all away if they could. The UUP sleep walk behind them into the lobby opposing any LGBT equality motion before the Assembly and with only a couple of exceptions the two main unionist parties behave on LGBT issues as if there were no gay protestants, loyalists and unionists in Northern Ireland. They seem to vote on purely sectarian lines to prevent every move towards LGBT equality yet want to be on a par with GB, somewhere where LGBT people have more equality and less discrimination than here.

Many of us left Northern Ireland in the 70s, 80s and 90s because of the backwardness of the Unionists when it came to LGBT equality. But that is something that I am hearing once again from the young people LGBT and allies who cannot stand the way the DUP and UUP are not listening to people, but only listening to church leadership (who don not even reflect their entire memberships) on matter of LGBT equality and other issues.

We are a democracy not a theocracy, the people demos decide what happens not gods theos. 

I want to be able to go about my live as any other citizen would, entering businesses, shops or restaurants convinced that I will be served, not at the whim of the owner who may object to something I cannot change (like my hair colour), or remove (like a football jersey), or leave at the door (like smelly boots).

That is why I will be standing in the cold with hundreds of others saying No to the Conscience Clause this afternoon.

Friday 23 January 2015

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics: The DUP number game

The DUP are claiming that their 9 MPs being greater than the SNP's 9 and Plaid Cymru's 3 puts them in a position to be at the leaders' debates ahead of these other regional parties.

But look at it another way the DUP will be fielding between 16-18 candidates (the number is variable as they are still talking about possible deal(s) with the UUP), this is against the SNP who will be standing 59 and Plaid who will be standing 40.

Of those 59 and 40 they will all face a Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat and a high proportion also facing a Green and UKIP candidate. Of the DUP candidates there may be a handful who face Conservatives, UKIP and Green candidates. Not one will face a Labour or Lib Dem candidate (although they may be facing a member of one of those parties under a different label).

So does the DUP on the numbers game they are playing deserve a podium at the debates? In my opinion no.

However, I would love to see Peter Robinson up there as to actually debate real issues would show up how backward the DUP actually are. I've long been of the opinion that even many third and fourth placed candidates in the rest of the UK have a greater grasp on reality, people and working for all people than the DUP. So I dreamt last night of Peter Robinson having to face questions for the other UK party leaders having to justify the conscience clause and his parties anti-LGBT and anti-abortion agenda while claiming they wanted to be British.

Of course both Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance are now all saying that they too have as much right for representation with the inclusion of two parties who don't stand across all of the UK in these debates. And the DUP are saying that Naomi Long of the Alliance is represented by the Lib Dems, when she is not on my membership list and has said she is not a Liberal Democrat many times and the SDLP by Labour.

Selective Ten Commandments

The theft of part of the Mannamán Mac Lir statue (pictured right) that overlooks Lough Foyle near Limavady appears to be a case of selective ten commandments following by religious zealots.

The body of the Celtic sea god was removed with a wooden cross put in its place on which were inscribed the words "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" along with the Greek letters alpha and omega (one of the biblical names for God "the beginning and the end"). Now this is the first commandment as listed in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, but no body is making this statue an idol that would defile the second commandment. Of course locally people will refer to Mannamán's anger when Lough Foyle is rough and call seahorses that form on the lough Mannamán's but this is not idolatry but merely placing a representation of a myth in an area that they are associated with.

But this statue was commissioned by Limavady Borough Council at a cost of £10,000 plus was drawing tourists away from the other tourist attractions in the Foyle area such as the City of Derry/Londonderry bringing tourist money into the area for more than just Benone beach down below. Therefore not only have the perpetrators cost local taxpayers £10,000 and whatever the replacement cost might be they are also stealing money from tourism that local businesses may have relied upon. So they have actually broken the 8th commandment.

However, I do have a question for however carried out this theft. From their thinking how to they refer to the days of the week?

  • Monday after all is named for the North Germanic moon god Mani.
  • Tuesday after the Norse one handed god Tyr the god of one handed combat.
  • Wednesday for Norse Wodan or his North Germanic counterpart Odin who was a guide for souls after death.
  • Thursday of course is called for Thor the god of Thunder
  • Friday is after the Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess Frige 
  • Saturday is the only day to retain it Roman god as it origin Saturn the god of wealth, agriculture, liberation and time
  • Even Sunday is named like Monday for the body in the sky. The Sun goddess Sunna in Germanic and Norse mythology
Therefore taking this action to the logical conclusion these poor thieves must have a tough time referring to the days of the week.

Saturday 10 January 2015

Presbyterian Church in Ireland: No appetite to fulfil own pastoral guidelines on gay issues

Idaho sticker with the PCI's Union College in background
In today's Newsletter there is article which looks at why the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) is not looking to follow swiftly on the heels, or maybe not follow at all, the Church of Scotland in its acceptance of openly gay clergy. It comes under the heading "Presbyterian figures stress little appetite for gay Presbyterian debate".

Sadly I would have to concur. Long term readers will remember over 5 years ago I wrote about my own experiences as a gay Presbyterian. I also wrote about the PCI's own pastoral guidelines especially and have on a number of occasions shared my dismay the failure of the PCI to even honour the recommendations from those guidelines. For clarity I post them here:

Recommendations That the General Assembly -
  • 1. adopts the guidelines and advocates their use and practice within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. 
  • 2. strongly state that attitudes and approaches within our congregations that, 'victimise or diminish human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex' are unacceptable. 
  •  3. encourage repentance for the occasions when persons with same sex attractions have been treated in ways severely lacking in grace within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and that the Assembly encourage an attitude of grace and mercy to be actively shown to all who struggle with different aspects of their sexuality. 
  •  4. continue to encourage our congregations to 'Create an environment of love, acceptance, patience, forgiveness and grace.' 
  •  5. ask that the Board of Social Witness (BSW) to investigate the possibility of creating 'a safe space' for people struggling with their sexuality and that funding be sought to create such a safe space. 
  •  6. ask the BSW and Board of Youth and Children’s Ministries to cooperate in updating the 'Loving in the Real World' youth resource to include more instructive material on the area of same-sex attraction.
  • 7. encourage the possibility of the establishment of parents' support group/s to help parents who are struggling with the issues surrounding children who have 'come out'.

So not only have the PCI not been showing an appetite to get involved in the gay debate the Board of Social Witness have yet to report back about the possibility of creating a safe space within the church for these issues to be discussed, nor has any support group been set up. Nor can I find an up to date version of Loving in the Real World reflecting the points raised. So far from having to follow the Church of Scotland that seem lethargic when it comes to taking action on their own recommendations on the issue.

Indeed for the past seven years since they resolved to pass these Pastoral Guideline there has been a lack of action on these action points and any debate on the issue can at best be described as a monologue and certainly not a dialogue with those lesbian, gay and bisexual members who may still be sitting in their pews or those who, like me, have left as they no longer feel welcome or accepted (as in point 4).

All that aside, however, retired minister the Rev Donald Watts former clerk of the Irish Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly does say:

 "I think the much bigger debate is our acceptance of people who have a homosexual orientation within the church. 
"I think the clergy debate is a bit of a distraction from the much bigger issue."

I hope he is right, but for the time being I think the PCI find what they believe the bedroom practices of those with same sex attraction has been a distraction to even consider them as individuals, believers and humans. The debate on clergy in my opinion is just a red herring as to the inactivity of the PCI to get involved in this debate with anyone it actually impacts.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Tories show true colours and ditch being fair to society

As a Liberal Democrat there is one thing I need to say about the first Conservative poster of the 2015 election campaign:

Yeah that is right for years they have talked the coalition Liberal Democrat mantra "A Stronger Economy and a Fairer Society", so in their first attempt to distance themselves from their Liberal Democrat partners they turn their backs on being fair to society.

Therefore just as in the 2010 manifesto look out for them making pledges to cut the tax burden on the richest and very little to assist the poorest.

While yesterday Ed Miliband was going on about how he was going to be fairer to society while at the same time continuing to cut spending in some departments but little to say about strengthening the economy. Only the Liberal Democrats will continue to work towards doing both simultaneously rather the swings and roundabouts of the Labservative agendas.

DUP selective British rights: The Driver's Licence Clause

Yesterday DUP MP for Lagan Valley Jeffrey Donaldson said:

"British Citizens in Northern Ireland deserve the same rights as the rest of the UK."

However, this was not about the rights of NI LGBT people to have the right to marry whom they choose. Nor is it to defend the Equality Act in full, in face of his colleague Paul Givan's conscience clause. Nor it is a freeing up of abortion legislation, no a whole gamut of rights issues that the people of Northern Ireland are the only ones in the UK to have equally with the rest of the UK.

No. This was about the change in driving licence design that in England, Wales and Scotland will not display the Union Flag alongside the European Union Flag, but in Northern Ireland will retain just the flag of the EU.

Of course this comes mere weeks after once again the main parties failed to come to any agreement on symbols and flags (amongst other issues) once again, and merely passed this on to another commission. So it is hardly surprising that flag controversy once again hits Northern Ireland when it is an issue that after over 16 years of talking we have yet to reach a consensus on.

But once again the argument from Donaldson shows the duplicity of the DUP. They use the argument of British Citizens having the same rights as the rest of the UK when it suits them, but with the other hand will argue that Northern Ireland is different from the rest of the UK when it comes to things like LGBT rights, abortion and other issues if it suits them politically with their base.

Sorry Jeffrey I'm not going to let you, or any member of the DUP, get away with playing the British rights card when you deny me the same rights as I would experience elsewhere in the UK because of my sexual orientation. Especially in light of Cllr Maurice "gays caused Hurricane Katrina" Mills becoming a Member of the British Empire in the New Year Honours, while LGBT British citizens are seen as less than full UK citizens with the same rights by the DUP I shall continue to hold institutional homophobia from Mr Donaldson's party to account.