Belfast Telegraph

Marriage equality for all except some

It used to be quite common to hear it described, rightly or wrongly, as the happiest day of your life. Your big day, your perfect day. Your wedding day. A day for which people start to plan a year or two in advance, and on which they are prepared to spend tens of thousands of pounds. Something we clearly value very highly as a society.

All the more shameful that once again, the DUP in Northern Ireland have decided to ensure it will not happen for their fellow citizens.

Not all their fellow citizens, of course. That would be absurd. No: they have singled out a very specific set of people they purport to represent.

If you are in a gay or lesbian relationship in Northern Ireland, uniquely within the United Kingdom, you have been singled out. All the rest of us can get married – but not you.

The Marriage Equality debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday 27 April was the fourth time the issue was debated. I brought forward the first equal marriage debate back in 2011.

The most recent debate was scuppered before it began when the DUP lodged a petition of concern, effectively a veto.

It isn’t just the DUP’s continued opposition to equal marriage that is so galling; it isn’t just the fact that they have tried to exempt themselves from their obligations under equality legislation.

They have a whole history of frankly degrading public statements directed against the LGBT community, starting with the ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign of the 70s and 80s, and running right through to now former-Minister Jim Wells’ appalling comments of last week.

You can’t have ‘equality for all except some’. And where the principle of equality is downgraded, where intolerance is allowed to flourish, we are all condemned to live in an intolerant society, in a culture of overt or hidden suspicion.

Where leaders fail to oppose homophobia, never mind repeating homophobic myths, some of us are put at real risk of violence; all of us are in some measure diminished.

The DUP is currently trying to push through a ‘conscience clause’ which will potentially further exacerbate intolerance and inequality. It is a shame that they did not allow for conscience in this debate and allow MLAs to vote freely.

Read more:

Gay marriage vote exposes deep divisions within Northern Ireland parties 

Kissing terrorists advert for Republic of Ireland vote condemned 

Gay marriage rejected by Northern Ireland Stormont Assembly

DUP minister Jim Wells quits after gay abuse comments controversy

Westlife singer Markus Feehily reveals 'aggressive' homophobic attack forced him to leave his hometown pub 

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