Politicians finding it hard to keep up with the people on gay rights

Opinion: Contrary to perceived wisdom, the people of the North are liberal on ‘moral’ issues

Thu, Dec 19, 2013, 12:01

The right of gay couples to adopt was conceded in the North but hardly anybody noticed.

True, there have been more urgent issues on the agenda – flying flags, restricting parades, dealing with the past without inventing a time machine and so forth. But even so, the issue of gay adoption has been before the courts in the past year in Belfast, London and Strasbourg, has sparked heated debate at the Assembly and deluged phone-in programmes. The latest development might have been expected to rank as a middling-sized story. Admittedly, the news emerged in low-key circumstances – a statement from DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots’s department to the Derry Journal on the 27th of last month, reacting to a gay rights protest a few days earlier during a visit by Mr Poots to Altnagelvin Hospital. Campaigner Sha Gillespie was pictured holding a rainbow flag above the Minister’s head and was quoted to the effect that she was “sick of this man dictating to me how I should live my life”. She added that she regarded his refusal to contemplate gay adoption as particularly offensive.

The department responded: “Following the Court of Appeal ruling on June 27th, the department issued an information note to all adoption agencies instructing them to accept applications from unmarried couples (including same-sex couples) and those in civil partnership arrangement. The final decision on whether an adoption order should be made will be a matter for the court.”

The instruction clearly applied to all adoption agencies, including any which might have reservations on religious grounds.

The reference to the courts retaining the last word was superfluous. This already applied to all adoptions. And the basis on which court rulings would be made had now been spelt out.

The June 27th ruling had upheld an argument by the NI Human Rights Commission that the ban on gay adoption breached European law. The department then applied to the Supreme Court in London for permission to challenge the ruling. The court rejected the plea, saying that “the application did not satisfy the criteria of raising an arguable point of law of general public importance”. As far as legal niceties were concerned, that was that.

Gay adoption
However, when questioned about gay adoption in the Assembly on November 12th, Mr Poots gave no indication that anything was about to change, but regretted the result of the court action and allowed that he was “currently carefully considering the implications” and hoped to bring proposals to the Assembly next year. Gay advocacy groups and others feared a repeat of the situation obtaining North and South with regard to abortion whereby court decisions were routinely ignored and guidelines kept in place setting much narrower parameters than the courts had declared legal.

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