Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Why doing right thing over gay marriage would be the greatest political coup of your life, Arlene

Fionola Meredith has a word in the DUP leader's ear about how it makes perfect sense to back same-sex weddings in NI.

Psst, Arlene. Want a way to silence your critics, generate massive public goodwill and completely wrong-foot the opportunistic virtue-signallers in Sinn Fein?

Back gay marriage.

No, no, don't choke on that cup of decorous, God-fearing tea.

Hear me out. It might be the best thing you ever did. Hell, it might even lead to the return of the Assembly, on a tsunami of love, euphoria and rainbow banners.

Let's take stock of the situation as it stands. Your stated position is that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that the redefinition of marriage, allowing same-sex couples to tie the knot, is "a step too far".

But even in the 17th century Puritan twilight that the DUP traditionally likes to occupy, a little light is creeping in. According to an Ipsos MORI opinion poll, about 50% of DUP supporters think that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

Now there are signs that within the DUP itself, long notorious for homophobic outbursts by party members, change is very slowly afoot.

Supporting the extension of gay pardons to Northern Ireland for men convicted of abolished sex offences was a surprising first for the DUP.

Then we had that coy tweet from MP Emma Little-Pengelly before the Belfast Pride parade: "Best wishes to all my friends & constituents celebrating today - all should be able to live a proud life free from hate, abuse or persecution."

No mention of Pride itself, you notice, and a disappointing unwillingness to follow it up with any further words of endorsement, but welcome nonetheless, as was the party's official response that it had "no issue with those sentiments".

Then up pops DUP councillor Tom Smith to actually voice direct support for the parade: "For the record, I have absolutely no problem with Belfast Pride or PSNI taking part - we must end hatred!"

Yet the reluctance of the party to let Mr Smith speak out about his relatively enlightened views shows how far it still has to travel.

The fundamental moral opposition to a change in the traditional definition of marriage has always been presented as an insuperable stumbling block for the DUP.

But good news, Arlene: you can leap over that obstacle with one gazelle-like bound!

That's because it is perfectly possible to be personally opposed to same-sex marriage while at the same time extending the freedom to marry to gay couples. Look at Angela Merkel, she's just done it in Germany.

All it requires is a little courage, a little generosity, a little independence of mind. A willingness to endure the brief furore before everyone realises that the sky is not going to fall in just because one man or one woman says to another: "I do."

Nobody is forcing you to get married to another woman, Arlene, even if you were free. Nobody is strong-arming you, kicking and struggling, into attending a gay wedding. Your beliefs, such as they are, can continue intact.

All you have to do is acknowledge that other people think and act and believe differently to you, and grant them the freedom to do so.

That's what a real leader does.

I mean, what have you got to lose here? Jim Wells? I think that's a sacrifice well worth making.

And come on, wouldn't it be worth it just to see the look on Gerry Kelly's face? Mr Kelly loves to flaunt his Pride-supporting credentials and is never slow to whip out his rainbow flag and wave it about. It's clear the former IRA bomber really believes in love, peace and equality for all.

Why not give him and the other virtue-signallers the shock of their life?

Now Arlene, just one final thing: let's see no more of the petulant nonsense we heard from you last year about how online abuse from LGBT activists makes it less likely that the DUP would support gay marriage: "No, they are not going to influence me by sending me abuse - in fact, they are going to send me in the opposite direction and people need to reflect on that."

That's schoolgirl stuff. You've got to rise above it and do the right thing regardless.

Take a look around you, Arlene. You live in the 21st century. Marriage equality is coming to Northern Ireland whether you like it or not.

The majority of people want it, and you no longer have the petition of concern to thwart our wishes.

You say it's a step too far, but the DUP has taken far bigger, far more controversial and far more vote-risking steps in the past.

Compared with going into government with Sinn Fein, I'm telling you, girl, this one will be wee buns.

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