Any hope that the DUP might soften their opposition to LGBT+ rights seems deluded now. Instead, it’s been another year of abandonment for Northern Ireland’s LGBT+ community.
On June 2nd, to show their solidarity with their LGBT+ friends, workmates and families, 20,000 people in Belfast took to the streets to march yet again calling for equal marriage in Northern Ireland. Support equal marriage is at 75%, but progress is completely stalled thanks to the collapsed devolved government at Stormont and failure in Westminster to legislate for equal marriage. On May 11th a single Conservative backbencher blocked Conor McGinn’s private members bill for equal marriage in Northern Ireland. Private members’ bills never have much chance of becoming law, but this should have been a government bill.
On April 28th, 2018 Theresa May urged Commonwealth nations to overhaul “outdated” anti-gay laws at a Commonwealth heads of government meeting. She told delegates ”nobody should face discrimination or persecution because of who they are or who they love”. Meanwhile 1.8 million people in Northern Ireland are effectively second-class citizens in the UK. The UK has just dropped to 4th place in the 2018 Rainbow Europe Map and Index, compiled by the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) which ranks countries in Europe on their LGBT+ equality laws and policies.
Despite this, there is hope! And the hope is the very people of Northern Ireland. They are not divided on LGBT+ rights. Since 1998, the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey has put on record the attitudes, values and beliefs of the people in Northern Ireland to a wide range of social policy issues. The 2016 survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with the following:
“In general, I respect others no matter what their sexual orientation”.
92% of Catholics either agreed or strongly agreed and 89% of Protestants agreed or strongly agreed. The politicians have never been further behind the people.
In 2017 Arlene Foster’s DUP received only 227,000 votes out of a total population of 1.8 million. The DUP are in power because of the remnants of a post-conflict fear of losing Britishness.
With Stormont in turmoil, the buck now stops with the government in Westminster. Equal marriage rights lagging behind the UK should never have been a devolved matter. Time to act Theresa May!