We’re being left behind in Northern Ireland: why I am a proud Liberal Democrat

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c4emThis afternoon we have seen the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill pass its third reading in the House of Commons. Many people start claiming that Equal Marriage is home and dry. This is quite far from the case.

The Bill has passed its third reading in one of the Houses of our Parliament: it still has to be passed in the House of Lords and quite possibly if amended there re-passed in the Commons. Just because the Lower House has passed it does not make it law. But, we are a stage closer to it being a reality in England and Wales. That part of the UK called Scotland looks like it will legislate in a similar way “north of Hadrian’s Wall” to use the phrase of one MP in the chamber today.

So gay couples on the island (and its lesser islands) of Great Britain look set to be able to get married. Woohoo!

BunreachtnaheireannThe Constitutional Convention in Éire-Ireland has recommended that Bunreacht na hÉireann be changed to allow for gay marriage. The Tánaiste said in a statement that it was not the role of the State to pass judgement on who a person falls in love with, or who they want to spend their life with.

“I was always confident that when the case was made the people would see the wisdom of the argument”. (RTÉ.ie)

So Marriage Equality looks likely in Éire-Ireland! Woohoo!

Unsurprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church is opposing the moves in the various jurisdictions. Here in Northern Ireland they are joined by many other religious organisations. Unfortunately, for couples in Northern Ireland, it seems that it will take an intervention in the Courts for this issue to be legislated about in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Junior Minister Simon Hamilton MLA, DUP

Junior Minister Simon Hamilton MLA, DUP

This evening in a BBC Spotlight programme we heard from a junior minister in the Stormont Executive, Simon Hamilton MLA of the Democratic Unionist Party. He stated that he did not think that people voted on single issues. It seems to me that this issue is becoming one which will force many in our community to rethink who they will vote for at all levels.

Simon Hamilton‘s assertion seems even more surprising given that politics in Northern Ireland is somewhat polarised due to the question on the future of the territory: is it as part of the United Kingdom, or is it as part of a United Ireland? Wait, is that a single issue? I think so. It might be convenient for the DUP to pretend that they a party appealing to all sections of the community, but as with Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the UUP, and to some extent the other parties in the Assembly, when it comes down to going into a polling place to vote, it is about the constitutional status that we many people think first. We need to move this on, when we go to vote in Northern Ireland, we need to be sure we are voting on issues that directly affect us. For many of us, the equal marriage debate is one that is bringing to a head how we vote. Other people will see their main issue as the future of education here, the provision of the health service, the economy, but increasingly for me and I think I am saying this, for my husband, Andrew, it is marriage equality.

This evening, I am very proud to be a Liberal Democrat. A party which is creating a fairer, more equal society. A party that as part of the Coalition Government is “introducing Equal Marriage for all couples, and stopping the unfair situation whereby transgender people had to get divorced even if they wanted to stay married.” (LibDems.org.uk). That might be for all couples in England and Wales, but perhaps soon we can get the policy extended to Northern Ireland.

Last night we had the AGM of the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats, (a bit on the late side, but at least we have had it now) with a renewed executive and conference representatives who are committed to furthering the cause of liberal democracy here in Northern Ireland. If anyone is in any doubt as to what we stand for, we remind you of the Preamble to the Federal Constitution of the Liberal Democrats.

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

If you want to help us work for that fairer, more equal society throughout the United Kingdom and here in Northern Ireland, you can join us online, or by filling in a membership form. I plan on having forms in my pocket from now on. I will make sure our new membership development officer has some too!

Originally posted at Gyronny Herald

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