MLAs back same-sex marriage under pressure
DUP: Stop blocking equality!
Time to step up the Fight4Equality!
By Louise Meek
President, Belfast Met Students’ Union
The 2nd November 2015 could have been a historic day. For the first time, Stormont saw a majority vote in favour of same-sex marriage, though it was blocked by the DUP’s “petition of concern”, an obvious blanket of their homophobic agenda. This was an important moral victory in the fight for LGBT equality.
The topic of equal marriage has been debated in the Assembly five times in the past three years. Each of these times, voting in favour of equality has risen. This reflects the mass support for marriage equality (62% in a Belfast Telegraph poll in May). On 13th June, 20,000 marched through the streets of Belfast for equality. Undoubtedly, mobilisations likes this have played a key role in putting pressure on the politicians, alongside social media.
One example of a politician who changed their vote throughout the numerous debates of the issue was Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn, who originally voted against the motion, then abstained, then voted in favour. This is a clear reflection of the impact of the public’s ongoing pressure.
The DUP are not the only opponents of equal marriage. Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy voted against while the SDLP’s homophobic North Belfast representative Alban Maginnis refused to show up. While recognising that those opposing equality are “on the wrong side of history”, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt abstained and all but one of his MLAs voted against. But breaking the “Democratic” Unionist Party’s undemocratic blockade on equality is now the key task we face.
The DUP are not impervious to pressure. Jim Wells was forced to resign by public outrage in the wake of his comments suggesting same-sex couples were more likely to abuse their children. Many DUP representatives and a section of their support are religious fundamentalists. However, many DUP voters do not agree with the party’s homophobia. For example, Jim Wells also got into hot water when he insulted a gay couple whose house he canvassed, one of whom had been a lifelong DUP voter!
Few DUP MLAs are likely to be pressurised into voting for equal marriage. But an active, cross-community campaign could make them fear losing votes if they continue to use petitions of concern to block the wishes of a large majority of the electorate. This may already have been a factor in their loss of the South Antrim seat to a liberal UUP candidate in the Westminster elections.
It is possible that equality could be achieved through the courts before it is achieved at Stormont, with an historic legal case underway as we go to press. No matter which route same-sex marriage rights are won through, it will be a victory for the tens of thousands who have campaigned on this issue. However, it will not be the end of the fight against homophobia. Instead, it must be springboard to challenge the ban on gay men giving blood, discrimination and bullying in schools and workplaces and fight for full equality.
If you agree, join Fight4Equality today! Text ‘F4E’ + name + postcode to 07709276057.
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Fight4Equality is a campaign initiated by Socialist Youth