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.


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