Jeff Dudgeon with a short account of a discussion in Chamber on Lisburn City Council’s ban on the use of its premises for civil partnership ceremonies. It involves one Unionist councillor quoting Popes Benedict and John Paul in support of his own position on the matter!By Jeff Dudgeon:
Tonight Tuesday 26 July) Lisburn City Council debated for some 40 minutes its decision to ban gays from using the Cherry Room for civil partnership ceremonies.
Cllr Patricia Lewsley (SDLP) raised the issue which had been passed without comment at the council’s last meeting when a subcommittee’s minutes were agreed. Cllr Seamus Close (Alliance) had at that time proposed that the council’s wedding room be denied to gays and lesbians.
Cllr Close and Cllr David Archer both apologised for their absence tonight.
Cllr Lewsley pointed out that the Cherry Room was used for numerous meetings as well as for registry office weddings. She had reported the matter to the Equality Commission (as has a Sinn Fein member) as being in violation of the section 75 duty on public authorities not to discriminate against gays etc without good cause. No alternative location for civil partnerships has been chosen (perhaps a broom cupboard?) in place of the Cherry Room. She was accused of ‘running to outside bodies’ and being ‘the patron saint of lost causes’.
Alderman Edwin Poots (DUP) said civil partnerships were not weddings and that the new law was ‘wrong and immoral and sticks in the throat’.
Cllr Ronnie Crawford (UUP) launched an impassioned attack on the unnatural practice of homosexuality quoting extensively from Cardinal Ratzinger and his predecessor as Pope saying gay marriage was an ‘ideology of evil’ and that homosexuality was ‘intrinsically disordered’. He said he ‘resented the gay lobby’ trying to change everything though he did not mind if acts were carried out behind closed doors. He was entirely disgusted by gay websites that he had happened across in researching this issue.
Cllrr Paul Butler (Sinn Fein) said the ‘council has an inability to protect diversity’ and asked was it any wonder its reputation was so low. Mention was made to muffled titters (except from the DUP who tittered throughout most of the debate) that there were gays in all the council’s political parties.
Asked by Cllr Basil McCrea (UUP) whether the ban was lawful, the Chief Executive said he had sought a legal opinion which confirmed that the decision was ‘in order’.
Deputy Mayor Lunn (Alliance) said he had supported the original motion and still had ‘no problem’ with the ban and that the Alliance Party was ‘united’ on the issue. Cllr Peter O’Hagan (SDLP) was stated to have abstained in the initial subcommittee vote. Cllr Michael Ferguson (Sinn Fein) said the council ‘always managed to find a way to discriminate’.
Alderman Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP) said he was horrified that an early day motion* had been tabled in the House of Commons condemning Lisburn’s policy. He proposed that the Speaker be written to correcting the factual inaccuracy in the motion. Lisburn had not banned ceremonies just the use of a particular room. He regretted that the council had had to provide for civil partnership ceremonies at all as he had fought tirelessly in committee against the Bill that permitted them being extended to Northern Ireland.
The Mayor agreed to write to the Speaker accordingly although Mr Donaldson as an MP is quite at liberty to table an amendment to the motion if he could be bothered.
The Equality Commission which now has CoSO convenor, James Knox, as a member is likely to rule on the matter and oblige the council to reverse its mean minded policy banning gays from using the Cherry Room. This may take a few months yet. A freedom of information request to inspect the council’s legal opinion has already been lodged.
In December, Northern Ireland will be the first part of the UK to have a civil partnership ceremony as the law takes effect here a day earlier than in Britain. The Cherry Room will be penetrated.
[*EDM 636 proposed by Rudy Vis MP and six others ‘That this House notes that the London Borough of Bromley and Lisburn City Council have announced they will not be offering ceremonies for civil partnerships; condemns this decision; and calls upon the Government to take action to address this situation.’]
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty