It really should have been a great day. Monday saw the Northern Irish Assembly narrowly vote in favour of gay marriage equality. However, as ever in this part of the world, things are never designed to run that smoothly.
It has to be said, the result was very tight. Four independent assembly members joined nationalists and others to get 53 votes in favour of same-sex marriage. This was just one vote ahead of the ‘no’ group which mainly comprised of Unionist parties.
This is where it all went wrong. The law change was blocked by the DUP who stated that it didn’t have sufficient cross-community support.
Power Sharing Rules
Under power sharing rules which came into effect after the Belfast Agreement in 1998, no law can be passed unless it has sufficient support from both Catholics and Protestants. This is to make sure that no community can dominate the other.
Amnesty International pointed out that it was ironic that a piece of legislation which was brought in to stop discrimination was actually being used to deny the LGBT community a basic human right.
The ruling means that Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where gay couples can’t get married. That really is something that we shouldn’t be proud of.
During the debate, there was a number of attacks on the notion of gay marriage.
Jim Allister, the leader of the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice, said couples getting married was a “perverse definition” of marriage. Allister said the gay marriage equality campaign was a “worked up phony demand for rights”.
At least three gay couples have stated that they will take the case to Europe in an attempt to bring the equality law into practice.
Dr Richard O’Leary, of the Faith in Marriage Equality group, stated that Ireland’s reputation as being a backward nation was bring re-inforced by this DUP decision.
“As a vulnerable, peripheral region fighting for its economic life in the teeth of a global depression, the message we risk sending out about Northern Ireland is that it is a region stuck in the past, out of touch with the cutting edge of global society,” he said. “We should be honest – our history and the religious roots of our communal divisions mean we already suffer from a serious image problem.
“It is entirely possible that within a few years, Northern Ireland could find itself the last significant jurisdiction in western Europe where same-sex marriage remains prohibited and on the ‘wrong side of history’.”.
A Tricky Situation
I have to say, I’m pretty torn on this one. Yes, I am desperate to see gay marriage on the statute books, but I also see how important it is that no community thinks it is getting the shaft. We all know how bad things used to be, and no-one wants to go back to that kind of world. We can’t have one community railroading the other; it just wouldn’t end well.
However, we must continue the fight for gay marriage. We must convince young unionists that equality for the LGBT community isn’t a bad thing. It is only when these voices become the loudest that Northern Ireland won’t be stuck in some sort of bygone age.
To all the assembly members who voted in favour of gay marriage, thanks, your support it appreciated. For those who didn’t, well, that really is a shame. Maybe you should do some research on the subject.