This week’s news update

The motion below will be debated by the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday 29th April at approximately 1pm. All week, we have been putting up details of how the MLAs voted last time and it can really make a difference if you write to your MLA to get them to support this motion. To assist those who wish to contact their MLA, we have set up a Facebook event, a ‘Write to your MLA campaign’, details of which can also be found here on the website, under Events. We are also organising a demonstration outside Stormont for the time of the motion, and again, details can be found on Facebook and on the Events page of the website. Please keep up to date with these and other equal marriage developments through our Facebook and Twitter pages, details of which can be found under Contact Us.

The motion is as follows –

Marriage Equality at the Constitutional Convention Proposed:
That this Assembly recognises the importance of the Constitutional Convention; notes the participation of parties from the Assembly; welcomes the 79 per cent majority vote at the Constitution in favour of marriage equality; and calls on the Executive to bring forward the necessary legislation to allow for same sex marriage.
Ms C Ruane Ms B McGahan Mr B McElduff

By equalmarriageni

An open letter to my elected representative, Mr Jonathan Bell, MLA

By Andrew Hawthorne (Originally written 29th Jan 2013)

Dear Mr. Bell MLA,

As one of your constituents, I would like to raise a concern I have about how you choose to represent me in your position as MLA. I have watched your debate on the Nolan Show (January 23rd 2013). I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that the views you portrayed in that performance do not reflect your whole constituency. I found myself not only disagreeing with everything that you said, but being wholeheartedly offended.

The issue was Equal Marriage i.e. allowing gay couples the same right to marry as their heterosexual peers. In your debate, you were firmly against this move, despite the growing possibility of it happening in the rest of the UK. Your reasons for opposing it ranged from the technicalities that may be complicated in trying to introduce the system, to the already existent Civil Partnership system, to quoting opinion polls that conveniently support your position. In the midst of the debate, you also confirmed the DUP’s continued opposition to Civil Partnerships and possibly to the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

If you will allow me, Mr Bell, I would like to address the arguments you decided to use on my behalf in your debate. You quoted that 70% of people are against equal marriage, according to recent opinion polls. Concerned, I strived to find these figures and found this analysis of opinion polls, which highlights their ambiguity. I’m concerned that quoting selective statistics, while representing the views of your constituents, is not conducive to effective political leadership. The subjectivity of opinion polls also represents a more important issue; bestowing equality should not be subject to individual prejudices, but granted by our elected political leaders and used as a measurement for successful government.

An additional argument you used is that there is no need to have Equal Marriage because equal rights are ensured through Civil Partnerships. However, different and separate is not equal and it makes no logical sense to have two administrative systems for the same legal procedure. Furthermore, I believe that the campaign for Equal Marriage is much more than just a marriage issue. Allowing gay people the right to marry (something that we take for granted) sets a precedent for the underprivileged in our society. It challenges social norms and sends an inclusive message to the LGB & T people in our society.

I am privileged because of my sexual orientation. But this privilege makes me extremely uncomfortable. I watch, almost as an outsider, as my homosexual peers struggle and fight for things that I take for granted, and I feel powerless. Even more so when I see my elected representative, rather than fighting for the underprivileged minorities in our society, take a measured stand that consistently discriminates against them.

As one of your constituents, Mr. Bell, I feel obliged to tell you how disappointed I was with your performance on the Nolan Show that night. With every smirk, jeer, and joke with the audience I could hear another closet door close. With every refusal to support Equal Marriage, Civil Partnerships and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, that same closet door locks shut. In my opinion, you failed to reassure your constituents, like me, that the DUP are the inclusive party that they claim to be.

Regards,

Andrew Hawthorne

Emailed to Jonathan Bell on Tuesday January 29th 2013. His response said that we may agree to disagree on the issue.

Scaremongering on Marriage Equality- don’t be fooled! By Andrew Hawthorne

The movement towards marriage equality in the rest of the UK and Ireland has finally reached Northern Ireland. At last year’s ‘Pride Talks Back’ event, marriage equality featured high on the agenda of the audience and received political support from five of the six party representatives. At a debate in the Assembly last October, a motion on marriage equality was rejected by only two votes. At first glance it may seem that it is just a matter of time before the legislation is changed to ensure same-sex couples have the same marriage rights as their heterosexual peers. However, a closer examination will reveal that it may not be that easy.

Firstly, the largest opposition to equal marriage comes from the Unionist representatives and particularly the DUP, the majority party of the assembly. The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Gavin Robinson, was diplomatically defensive of his religious beliefs for opposing equal marriage when questioned at ‘Pride Talks Back’ and this is a position shared by many of his unionist colleagues in the DUP and other political parties. Secondly, despite the apparent support from the political parties at this event, a number of parties have failed to support equal marriage at a policy level, citing it as a matter of personal conscience for individual members. This is a recurring theme among politicians and it is very worrying indeed. What does personal conscience mean when it comes to politics?

It means politicians can use their own personal beliefs to dictate how they govern. Normally this is an acceptable concept as we may vote for people because they share the same beliefs as us and, naturally, we want them in government to fight and support those beliefs. However, in the context of Marriage Equality, ‘personal conscience’ is an excuse for politicians to use their religious beliefs to favour a ‘traditional’ concept of marriage, using this as grounds for rejecting equal marriage. For example, in the Assembly debate a MLA and Minister in the Executive claimed he was not speaking as an MLA or as a Minister of the executive, but as a Christian. He was not the only one. Although not as explicit, the matter of personal conscience, derived from religious beliefs, was the main argument used by those opposed to Marriage Equality. This is unacceptable. There is no room for the religious beliefs of politicians in a secular government. It is true that we may vote for politicians based on their personality, or because we feel that they share our beliefs and principles. But the people we vote for do not always get into government. The majority favourite will get into government and will generally act at the behest of the majority that put them there. But they have a responsibility to act for everyone they represent, not just the majority. And in a democratic society we expect our politicians to uphold democratic principles such as equality, human rights and a separation of church and state. Based on the Assembly debate on marriage equality, we expect too much.  

The use of religion in this argument is inappropriate for a second reason. There are many religious institutions that support marriage equality and would relish the opportunity to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. This is the beauty of religious freedom, i.e.  that all beliefs can be equally represented in a secular state. This religious freedom is protected in any proposed legislation that ensures equal marriage and politicians are aware of this, though some may make statements to the contrary. To be crystal clear, equal marriage will not have any detrimental effect on any group of people who oppose it for religious reasons.  

Do not be fooled by any religious argument. It is used by those who oppose marriage equality to rationalise their prejudiced beliefs and to scaremonger their constituents. In reality, allowing same sex couples the same rights and legal protections as heterosexual couples through marriage harms no-one, but benefits many.  

Andrew Hawthorne

Andyh1987.wordpress.com

Your voice – why do you support marriage equality?

We would like to know what motivates your support for marriage equality. Let us know by taking our poll here…

By equalmarriageni

Equal Marriage Northern Ireland Responds to Ken Maginnis

PRESS RELEASE – 23.07.2012
Equal Marriage Northern Ireland
EqualMarriageNI@yahoo.co.uk

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

-STARTS-

On Monday 23rd of July the Equal Marriage Northern Ireland Campaign was disgusted to learn of the latest moves made by veteran Ulster Unionist Ken Maginnis in his opposition to marriage equality for same sex couples.
Being discontent with merely displaying his obvious prejudice against the LGBT community last month with his now infamous “rung on the ladder to bestiality” comment, he appears to now be gearing up to actively campaign against the policy exchange group which in effect equates to campaigning against basic equality in our society.

Our campaign is still in its fledgling stages but has already gained support from a wide range of sectors within Northern Ireland. At the first meeting Anna Lo (Alliance) and Caitriona Ruane (SF) delivered promising support which coupled with the wider support within our community from heterosexual and LGBT sectors only further strengthens our position as a campaign.

Marriage equality before the law is a legal precedent in any tolerant shared society today; how dare anyone suggest that the unifying love that is the same for all people regardless of gender, sexuality or creed is somehow perverse if expressed via a same-sex civil marriage.

Love is a human experience not a political statement and Marriage Equality is a human right not a heterosexual or specifically Christian privilege.
Circular dinosaur rhetoric that plays off the fears, intolerance and ignorance of the public no longer phases us as an out and proud campaign. As Barack Obama says “Religious freedom doesn’t mean you can force others to live by your own beliefs”. Secular society is supposed to protect the rights and freedoms of all equally.
We would like to appeal to the Ulster Unionist Party along with all its members to deal decisively with Lord Maginnis and join Basil McCrea and John McCalister at Belfast Pride which begins this Friday with the Parade on August 4th this year.
Being proud of our diversity is what Pride celebrates while also being a reminder of how difficult the struggle for Equality and rights can sometimes be; this is why we declare that our campaign is in it for the long haul. We shall not give up.

To impart some friendly advice on Lord Maginnis we would say that it is much easier to convince the public that you are “not homophobic” if you refrain from public outbursts of intolerance such as your implicit suggestion that homosexuality; what you negatively refer to as “this practice” (as if it were unnatural or ought to be prohibited) is somehow abhorrent.
What people like Lord Maginnis refuse to acknowledge is the far reaching and damaging results that such bigotry when relayed to the public as matter of fact can and has indeed cause; It has been documented as creating such a hostile environment that the health, well-being and safety of those who identify (Publicly or privately) as LGBT becomes seriously at risk.
Homophobia is on the rise in Northern Ireland; most likely whipped up by public figures such as Ken Maginnis and Edwin Poots. The Equality Commission NI recently published a survey into social attitudes and discrimination in Northern Ireland that alarmingly found a quarter of people would object to having a gay or bisexual neighbour and four in ten would object to a close relative forming a relationship with a gay or bisexual person.
Perverse hatred that promotes discrimination against the LGBT community must come to an end swiftly if our society is to progress forward. Until such time as Homophobia levels dramatically fall and our society adopts genuine equality as a basic legal precedent that includes same sex marriage we dare not claim to be a liberal democracy.
We thank the Policy Exchange for supporting equal marriage and hope to extrapolate more support within a Northern Ireland context; the dominoe effect is already taking down barriers with Belfast City council standing as a beacon of Equal Marriage to all others.

Gary Spedding – Campaign Coordinator

Peter Agnew – QUB LGBT

Equal Marriage Northern Ireland

Find our campaign on twitter (@EqualMarriageNI)

-ENDS-

By equalmarriageni

Northern Ireland activists launch campaign for Marriage Equality

On Thursday 5th July, a public conference was held at the Queen’s University Belfast that brought together supporters of full equal marriage rights in Northern Ireland. The new campaigning group coined ‘Equal Marriage NI’ consists of diverse representative bodies such as The Rainbow Project NI, NUS-USI, GLYNI and the hosts from Queen’s University Belfast LGBT Society.

Intolerance in Northern Ireland is, unfortunately, rising. A survey into social attitudes and discrimination from the equality commission NI found that a quarter of people heartily disapprove to a gay or bisexual neighbour and four in ten would object to a close relative forming a relationship with a gay or bisexual person.

Negativity towards the consultation on Equal Marriage in Scotland, England and Wales has been overemphasised here in Northern Ireland where there is yet to be any progress in considering any similar consultation.

Responding to highly discriminatory comments from various public figures in the past month, the newly established campaign group discussed turning “negativity into positives” with an end goal of lobbying the Northern Ireland assembly to repeal the 2003 Marriage Order that holds legal impediments to the recognition of same-sex marriage.

Strong unambiguous support was heard from a variety of speakers at the event including: John O’Doherty, head of the Rainbow Project; NUS-USI officers Henry Adams (Equality) & Rachel Wallace (LGBT); along with Peter Agnew, the President of QUB LGBT and certain elected representatives from the Alliance Party and Sinn Fein such as Anna Lo and Caitiona Ruane respectively as well as campaign organiser and political activist Gary Spedding.

Reference was made to the fact there is currently no home grown LGBT legislation and that partnerships should not be two tiered (Civil Partnership – Civil Marriage). John O’Doherty stated that opposition to Marriage equality is about trying to put the LGBT community “back in the closet”. He also went on to state that equal marriage does not “diminish or change marriage; multi-divorcee Tom Cruise however does”

Speaking on the society within Northern Ireland, Henry Adams criticised our politicians, asking them to “Do what they say in their manifestos; Work to create a society that all can share.” He continued by saying “Our aim should not be to create an LGBT friendly society; it should be to create a diversity friendly society.” Perhaps one of the most resounding and memorable points made was the statement that “Marriage is a human right and not a heterosexual privilege.”

Giving a student perspective, LGBT officer Rachel Wallace spoke of student roles within the struggle for basic rights, whilst also raising the idea that “As part of the Equal Marriage movement we may experience intimidation; however ‘separate but equal’ is not equal”. She also appealed to the straight community, proclaiming that the “LGBT community do not have to campaign alone, and indeed cannot.”

Caitiona Ruane MLA, paid tribute to the QUB LGBT society, speaking passionately on behalf of her party, congratulating president Peter Agnew on his laudable spearheading of LGBT campaigns within Northern Ireland, stating that people “have to nail their colours to the mast”. She went on to say that “Equality will only be achieved by instating full marriage for Gay and Lesbian couples.” Finishing up, she reiterated that her party is “100% in support of equality and will be leading the way, along with other parties” on this matter. The Sinn Fein MLA has the ability to apply substantial pressure as the Chief Whip to her party and also as Equality Spokesperson and a Policing Board member.

Speaking as an individual due to the fact Alliance are yet to confirm their party policy, Anna Lo MLA gave a moving speech where she asked the straight forward question “If two people love each other, why should they be seen as lesser?”

Organiser of the event Gary Spedding gave a brief talk before opening up the floor to gather ideas. His remarks affirmed that the “campaign is not an attack [especially on religion], it is about equality before the law.” He further warned that “If we accept LGBT partnerships as unequal, we risk accepting further inequalities further down the road”.

Many comments readily flowed in from the floor including from a Presbyterian minister who apologised “for how some in Church have treated the LGBT community” saying that the “Church is full of badly-informed but not necessarily bad people”.

Kyle Boyd from the youth wing of the SDLP apologised that minister Alex Atwood was unable to attend himself and contributed by saying that “Terminology and language is highly important- we must open up space for dialogue & discussion”. He further confirmed that the SDLP would be sitting down within the next week to discuss Equal Marriage.

A noteworthy point was made by a member of the audience who emphatically stated that LGBT is “not just a lifestyle, or an issue; let nobody here forget that fact”.

The event drew a great deal of support with over 40 attendees some coming from as far away as Enniskillen and Derry/Londonderry. Apologies were received from the Ulster Unionist parties Basil McCrea as well as the Green Parties Steven Agnew for their absence but their support was logged with the organisers.
The event was closed by both Peter Agnew and Gary Spedding thanking the audience and ensuring the gathered party that another meeting would be scheduled in the future to further the cause and to continue the good work which had been accomplished so far.

By equalmarriageni