Politicians do not reflect public opinion on same sex marriage and abortion
Same sex marriage and abortion are two topics on which our politicians clearly fail to reflect the full range of public opinion.
Take abortion. The main debate at Stormont is on whether and how politicians can restrict the small number of abortions carried out under our restrictive 19th century laws.
The problem seems to be that the courts refuse to impose the Draconian penalties available, or indeed any penalties at all. In every case taken so far, they have accepted a doctor's word that abortion was essential to the prospective mother's physical and mental wellbeing.
As a result the justice committee has framed hair-raising draft guidelines to create a chill factor in the medical profession.
That is not where the debate is on the streets. Our polls shows that 58% of people want abortion liberalised, not made more restrictive. The vast majority of these want it available to any woman who chooses it after being counselled on the alternatives such as adoption and assistance to keep the child.
Only 19.5% want abortion banned altogether and 22.3% express no opinion.
Compare this to Stormont where a pro-life consensus unite the SDLP, the DUP and most in the UUP, while Sinn Fein is also fairly conservative on the issue and Alliance has no firm position.
Same sex marriage is regularly debated at Stormont and regularly voted down with thumping majorities. Yet in terms of public opinion, there is a roughly even split on the issue and opinion seems to be moving in support of it.
For many of our opponents such issues are a matter of faith or principle, not of reasoned debate.
Rev David McIlveen, a prominent Free Presbyterian minister, says "we would hold rigidly to the teaching of the Bible and even if there was a bigger majority in favour of same sex marriages, the Bible's teaching against it is an eternal teaching, we would be on the side of the Bible". On abortion, he says "politicians should continue to vote against it. I am sure that particularly in Northern Ireland the majority of politicians will hold to a pro-life position and that has been the case for many decades now in Northern Ireland parliaments".
Rev McIlveen is a man of deep principle and utter sincerity. He is entitled to promote this point of view.
It is another matter when we have a political elite who do not feel the need to reflect public opinion. At Stormont we need a conversation with more points of view and greater diversity. We need a more reasoned debate in which politicians listen more and preach less. Winning a debate in the chamber is not the same thing as winning it in the community.