Comment: Marriage equality is more than a passing possibility in Northern Ireland

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Writing for, Gary Spedding says there are reasons to be optimistic when it comes to Northern Ireland embracing marriage equality in 2013.

The year of 2012 was one that saw an enormous push, not just for marriage equality, but for LGBT rights throughout the entire world. Whilst some countries and states witnessed advances in equality there have also unfortunately been some areas where LGBT communities have seriously suffered.

In the backdrop of numerous far more pressing issues one can perhaps be forgiven for overlooking comments made in early December by some members of parliament for Northern Ireland.

The Belfast Telegraph reported on the 11 of December that gay marriage plans in Westminster are unlikely to affect Northern Ireland, using quotes mainly from Democratic Unionist Party MPs who are known for their staunch opposition for legislating on LGBT rights and equality.

The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson, revealing how out of touch he is with public discourse on the matter said: “Our view would be that there certainly would not be a majority in favour in Northern Ireland of extending these powers to the province, and there is certainly no intention to legislate for this.”

My view is that whilst the DUP is certainly entitled to an opinion and party stance on marriage equality and LGBT rights, they cannot claim to even remotely represent a democratic majority when no public opinion has legitimately been gauged via polling on the matter.

By forming a view that asserts what they think the majority in Northern Ireland stand for the DUP has effectively tried to control discourse within Northern Ireland suggesting that and no real opposition to their position exists in the public sphere.

Mr Donaldson additionally made it quite clear that regardless of public views his party colleagues in the Northern Ireland assembly, many of whom draw upon religious values as a reason to reject equality for the LGBT community, will reject any motion that is put before the assembly.

With staunch disregard for honest democratic process and certain affection for the cynical abuse of power Mr Donaldson added that “We [The DUP] have enough votes in the assembly to veto it anyway.” – hinting at the DUP’s ability to use a petition of concern which ironically exists for the protection of minority group rights. Such a petition forces the Northern Ireland assembly to have cross-community support for a motion in order for it to pass.

Reading statements from Ian Paisley Jnr, also a DUP MP who called for Northern Ireland to be exempt from European human rights legislation over this issue, I find myself wondering why politicians in Northern Ireland are so frightened by the prospect of genuine equality.

Perhaps it is because they are just out of touch with reality? After all a number of polls recently revealed that not only do many conservative voters support same-sex marriage moves of the UK government but the majority of the people throughout England and Wales even wish for the Church of England to be able to conduct same-sex marriages.

Serious discussions over the very real fear that there are insufficient protections for religious groups need to happen in a sensible manner that follows a respectful discourse. This is why I strongly commend Alliance MP Naomi Long who said she backs the right of gay people to marry in churches provided that churches right to refuse is protected by law.

Change is coming to Northern Ireland and I strongly challenge the DUP and others in the Northern Ireland assembly to embrace democracy – request a Northern Ireland wide poll be commissioned and carried out so as to ascertain the facts and figures.

This should tell us the feeling of the public in Northern Ireland in a fair manner that doesn’t rely on other polls carried out through bias institutions. If polls and other research focused on public opinion come back supporting marriage equality then I expect Northern Irish political representatives to unequivocally change their views, even if they staunchly refuse to change their personal values – we are after all living in a secular democracy.

All being said I firmly believe that society in Northern Ireland is entering a period of enlightenment that will help turn the dripping tap into a conductive flow towards equality. A challenge facing the LGBT community is whether we can assist in facilitating this societal change effectively and efficiently.