No Petition of Concern? What Does This Mean for Same-Sex Marriage?

 

The recent UK general elections has sparked interest nationwide over the Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. (DUP)

Since the Conservative Party won the general election but did not win enough seats to meet an overall majority. Therefore, Theresa May’s options were limited to making a deal with another party to form a minority government. May chose the DUP, who won 10 seats in the general election.

The DUP are a renowned centre-right wing unionist political party in Northern Ireland. Much of their beliefs have been addressed in national news, especially that of their views on Same-Sex Marriage.

Northern Ireland is the only country in the United Kingdom that does not acknowledge same-sex marriage (it is treated as a civil partnership) and it is illegal. The most interesting fact about this is, prior to the March 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections, First Minister and Leader of the DUP Arlene Foster stated that the Democratic Unionist Party would continue to use a petition of concern to block any bill which would legalise same-sex marriage. So, the petition of concern is being used in Northern Ireland by political parties to allow their ideologies to take shape in law and onto the people of Northern Ireland.

The DUP are the leading party of Northern Ireland, although since the March Elections they were unable to keep their overall majority of 30 seats, only reaching 28. Therefore, they can no longer use the petition of concern to block anything they find noxious.

Same-sex marriage, in Northern Ireland, has been debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly five times, since 2012. The first four times, it was a minority that voted for the legalisation of same-sex marriages. But, in the most recent vote (November 2015) a majority of MLA’s voted in favour of same-sex marriage. Therefore, it is clear that Northern Ireland, as a whole, were and are ready to legalise this.

Alliance Party’s North Down representative Mr Andrew Muir MLA was the first openly gay mayor in Northern Ireland, and he believes that same-sex marriage is needed to build a better future for Northern Ireland. He stated that civil marriage “helps build a modern, inclusive, open and welcoming society which values everyone.

 

When Muir was asked how he felt about the way in which the petition of concern was used, he commented, “I am extremely frustrated to see the Petition of Concern abused to stop Equal Marriage becoming law in Northern Ireland…The Petition of Concern was designed to protect minorities but is instead being used to deny a minority right to Civil Marriage which threatens no-one.”

In contrast there are many people in Northern Ireland who do not agree with Andrew Muir, and believe same-sex marriage is still wrong. In an attempt to get a comment from any Unionist Party representatives, nothing came of it. So, we spoke to a DUP voter, Patricia Agnew (71) from Bangor. She remarked that same-sex marriage was “un-holy and unnecessary in Northern Ireland”. She added, “There are more important things to worry about than if a man and another man can put rings on their fingers, it’s a disgrace that so much time has been wasted trying to make something of this nonsense.”

With regards to Mrs Agnew’s comments, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin have apparently stated that a ban on same-sex marriage is a ‘red line’ in the country’s ongoing power-sharing talks. Highlighting that same-sex marriage is one of the main reasons why Northern Ireland cannot structure a functioning government in a fair time period.

Now, in light of the recent general elections more people are understanding, or claiming to understand why Northern Ireland cannot legalise same-sex marriage in line with the rest of the United Kingdom. This has sparked a new match on the issues faced in this country and members of LGBTQ communities are starting to come together and fight for their rights. On July 1st, a protest march will be held in Belfast by Love Equality Coalition, a campaign for marriage equality in Northern Ireland. The campaign is led by Amnesty International, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Cara-Friend, The Rainbow Project, NUS-USI and HereNI. The march has been organised in the wake of the general elections and the likely parliamentary deal with the minority Tory government, as they seek to put pressure on the DUP to change its views now that they are being scrutinised by the rest of the UK.

The DUP still believe in a “traditional” marriage that does not include same-sex marriage, but are they living in the past? Like Muir said, “civil marriage…threatens no-one.” Or are the Democratic Unionist Party doing the right thing as Mrs Agnew stated, “There are more important things to be worrying about”?

But, now that the DUP have no political power to veto same-sex marriage there is a chance that Northern Ireland will follow the lead of every other country in the United Kingdom and make same-sex marriage legal, that is, if the DUP do not find another way to stop this.

For more information visit:

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/03/06/unionists-could-make-pact-to-keep-blocking-equal-marriage-in-northern-ireland/

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/survey-shows-70-support-for-samesex-marriages-in-northern-ireland-34842125.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_Kingdom

 

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