Green Party MLA Stephen Agnew along with Sinn Fein MLAs Catriona Ruane and Bronwyn McGahan will be backing the private member equal marriage motion which is tabled for plenary debate at 1:45pm this afternoon at Stormont Castle Buildings.
This will make it the second time Green Party Leader and South Down MLA Stephen Agnew has spear headed a motion calling for marriage equality. An earlier motion in June this year never even made it to the assembly chamber after receiving disappointing amounts of interest from the other parties at the end of the 2011/2012 plenary.
Mr Agnew was undeterred in his campaign for marriage equality and motivated by his meeting with Sinn Fein councillor Martine Anderson at this year’s Pride Talks Back event in August who then pledged to get her party behind a future marriage equality motion, the South Down MLA and Green Party Leader resubmitted the Bill as the Green Party’s first motion submission for the 2012/2013 plenary.
The Green Party have taken an inspiring and courageous standpoint and are ferociously pursuing calls to debate the equal marriage issue in government. On the Green Party website Mr Agnew clearly voices his support for the NI LGBT Community:
“In Northern Ireland, LGBT people are treated like second class citizens when it comes to the right to marry. This is a prominent social issue in Northern Ireland and this is a human rights issue that needs to be addressed. Prejudice in any form erodes our vision of a society which is fair for all.” Now, backed by Sinn Fein MLAs Catriona Ruane and Bronwyn McGahan it seems support is moving in favour of reforms and change in our infamously homophobic assembly. Sinn Fein want to move forward with their vision of an “Ireland of Equals” and were once the only party to fully support marriage rights for same sex couples. Councillor Barry Dogherty even got involved in a protest in Enniskillen against Fermanagh District Council when it became the first local authority to oppose Sinn Fein’s marriage equality motion in September.
In recent days the DUP have attached a petition of concern to the marriage equality motion opting now to use a special provision designed to ensure that motions and legislation passed by the Assembly do not disadvantage one community over another to obstruct this motion .. As Steven Agnew tweeted ” Legislation designed to protect minorities used to prevent the passing of a motion to enhance minority rights”. Yet again the DUP have infuriatingly chosen to continue to discriminate against LGBT peoples here in Northern Ireland and hinder any chances at achieving equality for all.
Incidents like this one make it seem unlikely the DUP will ever understand the LGBT movement. The party’s notoriously homophobic stance is evidently going to be a major roadblock on our journey for equality.
The UUP have taken a different stance on the issue. UUP party leader Mike Nesbitt said that his party’s position on gay marriage was that it was a “matter of personal conscience” however this has only meant that his members have overwhelmingly and consistently voted against or abstained from voting on the issue.
The SDLP party won’t have an official position until after its party conference in November, although after recent public displays of support from the likes of Conal McDevitt (SDLP MLA for South Belfast) we can be hopeful the party will come down in favour of the proposals.
In September The Alliance Party also joined the equal marriage campaign following months of consultation but party Leader David Ford wanted to ensure that his proposals would include safeguards for religious groups so they would not be forced into allowing their premises to be used. Mr Ford added – “Alliance will oppose any form of discrimination, whether it is based on age, race, disability, gender or sexual orientation. There are equality issues in allowing those in a same sex relationship to have only civil partnerships, which is seen as discriminatory. “
All we can be sure of from today’s discussions in parliament is that things are headed in a more positive direction and we have opened up constructive dialogue amongst our political parties and MLAs. There isn’t going to be anything spectacular happening in the short term with no Executive move to legislate on the matter and no prospect of one while the DUP wield a veto. We do however need to recognise the gradual changes and improvements being made within our assembly and these could be the first steps to a more tolerant Northern Ireland and a society we can all share together.
In a bid to support the MLAs who have tabled today’s motion – the Equal Marriage NI Campaigning group is calling upon all supporters and members of the NI LGBT Community to attend a demonstration being held at Parliament Buildings at 1.45 this afternoon.
“Prejudice in any form erodes our vision of a society which is fair for all.” –
Stephen Agnew – Leader of The Green Party.