Finally, the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster intends to legislate on two important issues affecting Northern Ireland – marriage equality and abortion – to ensure fairness and equity for everyone. And about but time too. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which does not recognise same-sex marriage and it’s also where the law on terminations is the most repressive. Generally, such social issues are a matter for the devolved legislatures in each of the four countries of the UK, but tribal bickering and pig-headed intransigence have meant that the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont hasn’t sat for over two years, depriving Northern Ireland of a functioning government. As a result, these and many other key issues have been stuck in limbo. No doubt, though, the members are still drawing their salaries.
Despite overwhelming evidence of popular support for marriage equality and abortion reform, the joyless old dinosaurs of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are implacably opposed to both on puritanical moral grounds but, unless the Stormont Assembly reconvenes by the 21st October (like that’s gonna happen), the Westminster Parliament will likely legislate. While some of the more reactionary fire and brimstone elements of the DUP will be foaming at the mouth, I suspect many others will just be relieved, with a handy ‘wasn’t me, guv’ alibi to keep the faith.
You could have knocked me over with a feather boa when, in 2013, it was a Conservative government that introduced the law to legalise same sex marriage. Let’s face it, those dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue Tories aren’t exactly noted for their enlightened social policies or support for civil liberties. The passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Act through Parliament was far from smooth; lots of hysterical talk from barren barons and men in frocks about the end of the world and the divine sanctity of wedlock. But the legislation was passed, God didn’t lift a finger and the lights stayed on. Hallelujah.
Marriage is a devolved affair in the UK so the 2013 Act only applied to England and Wales. It didn’t take long for the winds of change to blow through these damp little islands. The Scottish Parliament legalised same sex marriage in 2014 followed by the Isle of Man this year. The Channel Islands will bring up the rear in 2017. So who’s letting the side down? Those hell and damnation Presbyterians in Northern Ireland, that’s who. Last November the Northern Ireland Assembly voted narrowly in favour of marriage equality but the Democratic Unionist Party vetoed the motion by using something called a ‘petition of concern’, a mechanism established by the Northern Irish peace settlement to protect the rights of minorities. Ironic, don’t you think? A shameful abuse of power, I call it.
Those dour old dinosaurs really need to step out of their orange lodges and into the light. Public opinion in Northern Ireland is firmly behind reform and who would have thought only a few years ago the people of the Irish Republic would have voted so convincingly for marriage equality? But then, they are no longer held in the medieval grip of the Catholic Church, thank the Lord.
Liam and I formed a Civil Partnership in 2008 and then converted to marriage as soon as we legally could. My mother is Northern Irish and proudly so. I have family connections across the province. We now have the ludicrous situation where our marriage is, or soon will be, legally recognised throughout these islands except for one small corner, all because of a band of crusty old bigots in orange sashes on the wrong side of history. As if the people of Ulster haven’t suffered enough.
Change will eventually come. The writing’s on the wall. I invite you to help it along by signing the latest petition here.