The motion for same-sex marriage equality put forward by Steven Agnew (Green Party) and Bronwyn McGahan (Sinn Fein) was rejected today by the Northern Ireland Assembly. While it’s not often that you get to say that you have an electorate that is not in favour of equality – today we can have that honour – and it leaves a strange taste in the mouth.
The motion concluded in a rejection by 45 votes to 50. It is notable that out of the 52 Unionists that voted, only three were in favour. In contrast, out of the 37 Nationalists that voted, 100% were in favour that the motion be passed.
Much has been said on the topic of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, some call it controversial and some have called it pointless, but the debate that was conducted today was at least a small step towards a progressive Northern Ireland. The shame lies in the result. We have a DUP that casts a ‘petition of concern‘ – meaning that the motion was dead in the water before even one ballot had been placed. We have a TUV leader once again talking about escalation to polygamy, and we have one Minister Danny Kennedy of the UUP talking like a part time member of the government and a full time member of the Presbyterian Church. The contrast of opinion is vast, varying and potentially volatile to those that want to appeal to an ever more diverse Northern Irish voting population in the future.
The DUP issued statement of opposition, penned by MLA Michelle McIlveen, was a rather muddled piece about the definition of equality, religious tradition and legality of marriage. The statement was odd in that many sentences directly contradicted the one that followed. In the first paragraph, it is stated that: “I want to say at the outset, my party believes passionately in equality. In the second it is stated that: “This is not a debate about equality; rather it is a debate about redefining the centuries old meaning of the word marriage.” This is directly followed by “Moreover, everyone is free to choose to marry, there is no bar or prohibition on marriage. A person is free to marry provided they marry someone who is of the opposite sex. It’s time to tear down the smokescreen that this is about discrimination, the equality issue is settled.”
To sum up, the DUP believe strongly in equality, but this motion is actually about the meaning of the word marriage, and any person is free to be married, unless they are gay, in which case they are not.
No matter what some in the Alliance, UUP or SDLP tell us, churches, church groups and Christians, in fact any person from a faith community, will be in a significantly diminished position as a result of any legal change.
DUP statement on the issue of staying impartial
The issue of same-sex marriage has been fairly divisive across each of the main political parties, however it seems that for every Basil McCrea – one the of the three Unionists that were in favour of the motion – we have a Danny Kennedy. McCrea spoke favourably on the issue, and was quoted as saying:
“I know also that there are members of this house who feel unable to speak on this motion despite their personal inclination and despite the personal circumstances of those they care for. This is a terrible position to put anybody in. Mr Speaker, I do not understand why the DUP felt the need to present a petition of concern on a matter that should have been a free vote.”
Danny Kennedy rejected the motion on religious grounds, stating:
(As someone) “with a clear personal faith yet tolerant of others to hold and express their views, I do not and cannot support the principle of same-sex marriage. I’m opposed to it not just on the basis of my church, the Presbyterian Church…but also most importantly the reaching of Holy Scripture.”
Mr. Kennedy didn’t specify which Scripture he is reading, but the clear teaching in the Bible goes a little something like this:
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Leviticus 20:13
Erm, okay Dan.
Steven Agnew, before the debate and subsequent rejection, stated “Ultimately if we introduce legislation in this issue there will be no impact on those who disagree with same-sex marriage, they will still be entitled to hold their views and churches who don’t want to perform same-sex marriage will not be legally forced to do so. It will be positively life changing for many couples and it will send out a very clear message to the wider society about the importance of equality.”
I can think of no better, or fairer way in which to sum this up. Instead we close today with a feeling of a missed opportunity, a slight dampener on Northern Ireland’s continuous baby steps towards progress. However there is still hope; precisely 47.37%.
By Jason Murdock