Scottish Conservative leader urges same sex marriage in NI

Ruth Davidson delivers Amnesty lecture in Belfast on marriage equality

Supporters of same sex marriage should try to persuade their opponents to change their minds rather than "shout them down", the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson has urged.

Ms Davidson was in Belfast on Tuesday night to deliver the Amnesty International Belfast Pride lecture and to encourage politicians and the electorate to support Stormont passing legislation to allow for gay marriage.

Over a three-year period the Northern Assembly voted on four occasions against same sex marriage, while in the fifth vote last November there was a one-vote majority in favour of changing the legislation. The DUP, however, used its majority standing in the Assembly to veto the decision.

"As a practising Christian, a Protestant and a unionist who is engaged to a Catholic Irishwoman, for me, equal marriage isn't about one religion, country or community. It is about people in Northern Ireland being afforded the same rights as everybody else," said Ms Davidson.

"Scotland is a better place today because of equal marriage and I want to take that positive message from our experiences here to Belfast and beyond," she added.

During her visit, the Conservative member of the Scottish parliament met Assembly members, LGBT groups and prominent opponent of same sex marriage, Free Presbyterian Minister the Rev David McIlveen.

At the Mac Centre in Belfast on Tuesday night Ms Davidson spoke on the theme, Marriage Equality: From Scotland With Love, “In Scotland, when we passed equal marriage, for some people we changed their whole world,” she said.

“But for those worried that they were losing the world they knew, their fears didn’t materialise. But that doesn’t mean their fears weren’t sincerely held. And we owe it to those who take an opposing view to engage and explain, to discuss and persuade,” she added.

“You don’t affect change by shouting down your opponents whose votes you need. I am a practising Christian. I care deeply about the role of the church in the public realm. I believe passionately that it is a force for good,” said Ms Davidson.

“I might not always agree with every intervention churches make in politics, but I defend their right to do so. In Scotland, as in other countries, we made sure that as we passed equal marriage, we also protected the rights of religious groups.”

Ms Davidson, who also campaigned during the referendum on same sex marriage in the Republic, suggested that failure to change the law also would be damaging in terms of attracting international investors and creating jobs. “If you’re a global business deploying people around the world, why would you send them to a place if some of them aren’t equal?”

She also adverted to how the majority of opposition to same sex marriage is viewed as coming from the unionist community: “Speaking as a Protestant, a Presbyterian and a unionist I think unionists and Presbyterians should feel they have moral permission to back equal marriage.”

She added that same sex marriage wasn’t about one religion or county or community. “It is about the people of Northern Ireland being afforded the same rights as everybody else.”

Ms Davidson quoted from the Northern Ireland Rainbow project which found that 65 per cent of young gay men say they have been subjected to abuse; that nearly two-fifths become homeless at some point; that 17 per cent of those bullied received death threats; and that more than one in three attempted suicide.

“These are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters - and they are made to feel so much fear and guilt and shame. And we can make things better for them,” she said.

“Equal marriage won’t fix everything by itself; it won’t stop the workplace bully; it won’t change the unaccepting parent but it will make a difference. It will make every couple in this country equal in the eyes of the law,” said Ms Davidson.