Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Will our Assembly take on Europe over gay marriage?

Stormont again rejected a motion supporting same-sex marriage

Is same-sex marriage right or wrong? That is the basic question facing any one who decides to face up to this controversial issue.

Earlier this week the Northern Ireland Assembly rejected a motion supporting same-sex marriage for the third time in 18 months, and this should be no surprise to anyone who knows about politics in Northern Ireland. Whether or not you approve of the decision, this is democracy at work.

However, those who lost the latest vote, including Sinn Fein, are now suggesting that the matter should go to the courts. If it does so, there is little doubt that it will receive the backing of the grandly-named European Court of Human Rights which backs nearly every controversial cause nowadays.

If this happens, and if same-sex marriage is allowed in Northern Ireland, it will beg questions about democracy. Will our devolved powers be strong enough to back up the Assembly against such a powerful outside legal body? If not, what is the point of having the Assembly decide upon such an important issue if its verdict is simply overturned by the courts?

The churches in Northern Ireland have made clear their opposition to same-sex marriage, on the grounds that it devalues the concept of marriage which has served humanity and the family unit relatively well over many centuries.

I am not homophobic but I believe that the concept of 'same-sex marriage' does not accurately reflect the institution which it is trying to describe.

The term marriage, at best, should be reserved for a stable and lifelong relationship between a man and a woman. Of course it does not always work properly, and there have been too many unhappy marriages, though this may be lessening because people are no longer trapped, and are able to seek a divorce.

A stable relationship between two men or two women is different. It has a different lifestyle, a different sexual mores, and a different niche in our complex pattern of social behaviour.

This has nothing to do with equality. Same-sex people are completely equal to those in a heterosexual relationship, and also to the millions of others who do not have a permanent partner either by choice or for some other reason. They should not be overlooked, because they form a large part of the wider human family as well.

One of the problems about same-sex marriage is that people who do not accept this concept are afraid of speaking out against it because they do not wish to be thought homophobic. What annoys me greatly, however, are some of the arrogant and patronising people in the same-sex lobby who scorn any other point of view, as if they had the monopoly of wisdom and tolerance, which they do not.

I consider myself liberal and tolerant, but I do not support the concept of same-sex marriage just to prove to people that I am broad-minded.

What is wrong with a civil partnership where both people in a same-sex relationship are given the same legal rights as heterosexual couples? If this is not acceptable, then it is up to partners in a same-sex relationship to invent a new and accurate term for it, but not to hijack the traditional concept of 'marriage'.

There is no point in ducking or fudging the issue, which needs an honest response. Therefore the many people inside and outside the churches have every right to express their thoughtful and measured opposition to same-sex marriage, but without feeling in the least guilty about doing so.

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