by Andrew Farley
The last year has been a successful one for the struggle for LGBT rights in Ireland. In May’s referendum, 62% of the electorate in the South voted in favour of marriage equality. Support was strongest in working class communities. In July, under pressure from below, the Southern government passed the Gender Recognition Act, allowing trans-adults to initiate a process to be legally recognised as their preferred gender.
Same-sex marriage has yet to be legalised in Northern Ireland, in spite of 70% support for marriage equality according to a recent Ipsos MORI poll. In June last year, over 20,000 attended a rally in Belfast to support equal marriage. This sea change in attitudes and the public demand for equality led to a historic majority vote for marriage equality in the Assembly in November, with a number of MLAs shifting their position on the issue.
The ‘Democratic’ Unionist Party have made it clear they intend to continue to undemocratically block same-sex marriage, abusing the petition of concern mechanism which is meant to protect minorities. However, they are not impervious to change. Half of the DUP’s voters support marriage equality. This figure can grow and become a point of pressure on them. They did not block the lifting of the lifetime ban on men who have sex with men giving blood. Last year, DUP Health Minister Jim Wells was forced to resign following widespread condemnation of homophobic comments he made publicly. The dinosaurs are on the back foot, but it is important that we continue to apply pressure.
Whilst progress has been made locally, we must not forget that same-sex relationships are still illegal in 73 countries, being punishable by death in ten. In addition, Russia and Lithuania have laws prohibiting that which is considered “homosexual propaganda”, effectively denying LGBT people the right to express their identity. The horrific massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando highlights that hatred of LGBT people is still present in society and that it has the capacity to manifest in the form of extreme violence.
It is imperative that the LGBT community and allies stand in global solidarity against backwards politics, bigotry, and discrimination. United struggle is the key. In Northern Ireland, it is vital that we continue to exert pressure on politicians, both in Stormont and in Westminster. The UK government has the power to bring about marriage equality here, just as same-sex marriage has been legalised in England, because the time for change is now. If you agree, get involved in the Fight4Equality campaign which has led protests against homophobia, sexism and for abortion rights – email firstname.lastname@example.org.