Una Mullally: We must support our LGBT brothers and sisters in NI
DUP actions on marriage equality still mean-spirited and rooted in discrimination
Pride Dublin 2017: We all share this island, so it’s only right that we ultimately share the same rights. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan
As the DUP rose to broader fame in the aftermath of Theresa May’s disastrous election, British media issued explainers to readers, listeners and viewers about what the DUP is and what it stands for, which tells you all you need to know about the indifference and ignorance many British people – yes, even the smart, sound ones – show about issues in Northern Ireland. The amnesia the rest of the UK and indeed the Republic of Ireland suffers when it comes to the North is embarrassing and puzzling.
I’m considering this collective amnesia as we come to the tail end of LGBT Pride month, when the long to-do list of LGBT rights around the globe is amplified. Like all civil rights movements, global solidarity is a strong characteristic of the LGBT rights movement, but if you want to change the world, start at home. Seeing the smug bigotry that has been a trait of the DUP being endorsed by Tory courting is probably the one marriage that shouldn’t be legal, yet the DUP still contends that other marriages shouldn’t count.
I don’t know how it must have felt as an LGBT person in the North to watch the celebrations in the south in 2015 when the Republic passed marriage equality by popular vote, but it must have been bittersweet.
Imagine for a second you’re a gay couple living in Belfast, one partner from the South, one from the North. If you got married in the South, your relationship is demoted when you cross the Border. If you want to get married in the city you live in, you can’t.
While the DUP do everything in their power to stop marriage equality progressing, our LGBT brothers and sisters – and their non-LGBT counterparts who wish to live in an equal society – are being let down. Meanwhile, people in England, Scotland and Wales are very often aghast that their rights and privileges don’t extend across the Irish Sea.
It is absurd that a lesbian or gay couple can get married in Dundalk but not Newry, Letterkenny but not Strabane, Clones but not Enniskillen. It is absurd too, that the DUP continues to veto the equality and rights of people in Northern Ireland, disrespecting the will of the people, who overwhelmingly support marriage equality in the North.
Arlene Foster this month said it was “complete and utter nonsense” to describe the DUP as homophobic. If so, what was her thinking in 2015 when she went so far as to write to the Scottish government in an attempt to restrict their own marriage laws, asking ministers to prevent same-sex couples from the North converting their civil partnerships into full marriages?
In Scotland, couples who live outside the jurisdiction can convert civil partnerships to marriage, whereas in England and Wales, the right to “upgrade”, as it were, is only open to those whose civil partnership originated in those jurisdictions.
And what about Foster’s party comrades? Ian Paisley Jnr has said he is “repulsed” by homosexuality. In a discussion about sex and relationship education lessons, Jim Shannon said Christian teachers should be allowed withdraw from “promoting values that undermine their faith”. David Simpson told the House of Commons that marriage is “an ordained constitution of God. In the garden of Eden, it was Adam and Even, not Adam and Steve”. In 2016 Sammy Wilson wrote to a constituent who asked him to support World Aids Day, saying, “I believe that there are areas of medicine and diseases that have not received the same attention as Aids and which afflict far more people that are not always a result of lifestyle choices and which therefore deserve higher priorities than they have been given at present”.
Religion as an obstacle
Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson were vice-presidents of a group called Keep Marriage Special, which opposes marriage equality and peddled the line that polygamy and incest would be permissible if same-sex couples had the right to marry. Gregory Campbell is another “conscious clause” fan a sport which primarily revolves around living in a victim fantasy where perceived threats to one’s ability to oppress are somehow oppressive.
One wonders how a party so typified by fundamentalist Christianity considers religion so fragile as to be undermined by two lads marrying, or having its foundations rocked by icing on a cake.
As illustrated in the Republic and elsewhere, the tactics and rhetoric of people using religion as an obstacle to equality (saying that Christians are being vilified, that family is solely about children, that they’re not homophobic, just “traditional” etc) are easily dismantled and exposed. Nobody is asking the DUP to forsake their beliefs. They are entitled to those beliefs. But what they are not entitled to is to use those personal beliefs as leverage to deny same-sex couples in Northern Ireland the equal rights they deserve. The DUP’s actions on marriage equality have, and continue to be, petty, mean-spirited, and rooted in discrimination.
As the merry fog of Dublin Pride lifts today, here’s another date for your diaries: Belfast Pride begins on July 28th. The LGBT community in the Republic, enjoying rights of marriage and gender recognition, should march with their brothers and sisters and others in solidarity. We all share this island, and it’s only right that we fight for and ultimately share the same rights.