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