Conflicting Freedoms

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It is a truism, but in a free society, like the one we aim for, the freedoms of one group of people may sometimes infringe on the freedoms of another group. Balancing these conflicting freedoms is a complex task. For example, I believe the following things.

  • People should be allowed to express their religion
  • People should be allowed to be open about their sexuality

To me, these freedoms are equal: expressing your love for your god is of the same importance as expressing your love for your partner.

Here in Belfast there is an interesting example of a clash between those two freedoms. In 2008, the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church published an advert with the headline

THE WORD OF GOD AGAINST SODOMY

Following complaints, the ASA found that the advert did cause serious offence to some readers. The church is now appealing against that ruling.

It is clear that the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church believes that same-sex relationships are forbidden by the Bible. Should they be allowed to believe that? Of course: freedom of religion means that people are allowed to believe what they wish. Should they be allowed to express their beliefs? Again, the answer is “of course”.

But let’s consider the specific details of the advert here. As well as being generally hostile to gay people, the advert used words and phrases like

a perverted form of sexuality,

vices, and

Gods judgement.

Speaking as an openly gay man (who is also an openly gay Christian) the advert is intimidating. I would have not felt comfortable living in any community where those attitudes were not challenged.

So whose rights should win? Should the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church be allowed to express their religion as they did, or should gay people be allowed to freely express who they are?

The key question is who gets harmed most when one group has its rights restricted at the expense of another’s. The ASA didn’t find that the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church had to change their beliefs, only that in future adverts they had to be careful to not cause offence with the language they use. The infringement on their right to express their religion was extremely minor. Nobody is harmed if I walk down the street hand-in-hand with my boyfriend. The right to express sexuality freely is a right that harms nobody.

Tom Elliott and the UUP need to grow up

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So it seems that we are not going to see the leader of the Ulster Unionists in next year’s Belfast Pride march. As reported by Pink News, Tom Elliott MLA recently said that

I have indicated at party meetings that whilst some members of our party would go to gay pride marches or GAA matches, I wouldn’t go.

Personally, I am not surprised at the UUP’s decision to vote in Mr Elliott as party leader. Basil McCrea his opponent has been very good at attending Belfast Pride in recent years, particularly with his colleague John McCallister.

It is clear that the members of the Ulster Unionist Council want to try and position their party a lot further to the right than that of a party that seemed to be acknowledging its LGBT support and constituents.

The times have changed – but no one seems to have listened or watched in the UUP. It is time for real politics in Northern Ireland. We have moved away from the dead politics where if it looked like a member of the UUP it got elected. This year not one of their candidates was elected. Not even the previous party leader, Sir Reg Empey (even after he was parachuted into South Antrim).

The team up with the Conservatives seemed to be a complete flop. Is Mr Elliott’s election as party leader just another nail in the coffin of the UUP. With comments like he has made, it would seem so.

Alternatively, he and they need to grow up and realise that they have to represent their constituents, speak to them, maybe even go to places that they don’t find comfortable to do so.

Speaking in the Waterfront Hall, Tom Elliott last night said

The Ulster Unionist Party has a tradition of honest, hard working politics putting the interests of Northern Ireland first.

My challenge to him, is when will we see them starting to ensure that they work for the interests of all the people including those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans, to say nothing of those who support Gaelic games.