Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

A dubious victory for our democracy

It was no surprise that Sinn Fein's motion calling for the Assembly to legalise same-sex marriage was defeated. Yet, while there were criticisms of the motion, the party was perfectly entitled to raise the matter. In a democracy it is not just popular issues which should be aired. By the same token those who opposed the motion were exercising their own rights and, in many cases, their deeply held personal beliefs. Ultimately we have to abide by the majority wish of our elected representatives.

In this case the refusal to legislate for same-sex marriage puts Northern Ireland out of step, not only with the rest of the UK, but also with Europe. Some people may see that as a good thing, but they must also be aware that the campaign for same-sex marriages will not die with yesterday's failure in the Assembly. Undoubtedly there will be legal challenges, possibly as far as the European Court of Human Rights. Already the health minister's ban on homosexuals donating blood has been taken to court.

While we can applaud politicians taking a principled stand – whether we agree with that stand or not – there is also an argument that they should seek to show a tolerant face of Northern Ireland to the world. Sometimes the attitudes reflected by politicians give the impression that the province is an unfriendly, reactionary place, unwelcoming of the sort of diversity of opinion and practice seen in many other countries.

That is not the sort of perception that we really want to go abroad. Those who would seek to come here to live or work or, even, to invest, want to be assured that it is a modern, forward-looking society. Of course MLAs have strong views on many subjects including social legislation, but they should exercise them with discretion, seeking compromise if possible, rather than confrontation and determining to do what is best for the population at large rather than placating their own supporters.

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