Lessons from up on the hill: mind your soundbites & voting on equal marriage

Loose words sink ships political deputy [Assembly group] leaders’ careers. Particularly when you use a soundbite as strong as “sleepwalking into unionist unity”.

John McCallister’s rhetoric on Saturday night at a Young Unionist dinner describing [as I comprehended it] how unionism in general might interpret the DUP/UUP relationship given the evidence of the past week lost him his seat at the side of Mike Nesbitt.

Ulster Unionism has sought to give voice to the civic unionism of the Covenant.

Sleep-walking into ‘unionist unity’ [heading in the printed speech]

All of which makes it deeply ironic – and disappointing – that it has been at this time that reasonable observers are concluding that the UUP is sleep-walking into ‘unionist unity’.

The recently almost daily diet of shared initiatives with the DUP … Shared commemorations, shared press releases, shared events, shared statements …

Has built up the unfortunate impression that the ‘unionist unity’ train has left the station.

In the driver’s cab a certain P. Robinson is smiling broadly … Delighting that he appears to have the UUP as a passenger.

Parallel statements from John McAllister and the Ulster Unionist Assembly Group won’t really resolve the misunderstanding / difference of opinion.

I wonder whether John will be stripped of his role overseeing the party’s constitutional commission? Time to hunt out that midwifery application form ..

This afternoon’s Assembly private members’ debate on Marriage Equality was unlikely to be successful, given the DUP’s petition of concern that turned the issue on conscience into a vote requiring a cross-community majority (ie, a majority of unionists as well as a majority of nationalists to support it).

Somehow ironic that the Green Party MLA could bring a motion to the NI Assembly but his vote (designated as ‘other’ and not ‘unionist’ or ‘nationalist’) did not count!

For the record they were voting on Steven Agnew’s motion (eventually supported by Sinn Fein):

That this Assembly believes that all couples, including those of the same sex, should have the right to marry in the eyes of the State and that, while the rights of religious institutions to define, observe and practise marriage within their beliefs should be given legal protection, all married couples, including those of the same sex, should have the same legal entitlement to the protections, responsibilities, rights, obligations and benefits afforded by the legal institution of marriage; calls on the Minister of Finance and Personnel to introduce legislation to guarantee that couples of any sex or gender identity receive equal benefit; and further calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to ensure that all legislation adheres to the Government’s commitments to protect equality for all.

Behind the raw tally of 45-50 voting [see the Outcoming/Voting tab for full details] lie a number of stories:

(1) While 100% of nationalists who voted supported the motion, only 5.77% of unionists supported it. Three unionists. But three more than the electorate might have predicted five years ago.

(2) The SDLP were poorly represented at the vote. In fact, if their six missing MLAs (including their current and previous party leaders) had turned up and voted for the motion, there would have been a numerical majority.

(3) Alliance proved that exactly one month after their ruling council voted in favour of the introduction of same sex civil partnership, their MLAs held divergent views. Voters will surmise that the conservative theology of some of their elected representatives overpowered the party’s more universal social conscience. Trevor Lunn* was the only MLA to vote against the motion; Stewart Dickson, Stephen Farry, David Ford and Anna Lo voted for. Three MLAs were missing in action, with the two most noticeable absentees Chris Lyttle and Judith Cochrane from East Belfast along with colleague Kieran McCarthy.

[* Trevor left a comment below to outline his position.]

While Facebook and Twitter reaction is not scientific and prone to bluster, there are examples tonight of very disillusioned Alliance voters – particularly around East Belfast – who are disillusioned and betrayed at Alliance’s lack of support for the motion. Two examples:

I’m done with Alliance Party of Northern Ireland after today. You can tell me the a vote for Green Party is a wasted vote, but so is my Alliance vote if they’re not even going to turn up to vote on Gay Marriage.

@Belfast_Casual: The Alliance Party in this country are no liberal party, lets knock that myth on the head. Faith based Tories.

Leading Change … by not always turning up to go on the record? Update – some East Belfast folk are running an online petition to ask their local Alliance MLAs why they did not vote.

(4) For once, the UUP managed to a diverse performance, with Basil McCrea (keynote speaker at a NI Conservative event tonight), Danny Kinahan and Michael Copeland voting for the motion.

(5) One of the more bizarre interventions in the debate was the Sunday afternoon press release from the Church and Government committee of the Presbyterian Church. I’m baffled at what the powerful and normally sensitive committee hoped to achieve when they scheduled a weekend press release detailing a letter sent to all MLAs outlining the committee’s position against “any change to the present definition of marriage”. (Previously they have issued a similar missive to the Prime Minister and party leaders.)

Contrary to much public comment, the proposals for so-called gay marriage are not merely part of a debate on the equality agenda, but ones which effectively demolish generations and centuries of societal norms established on Judaeo-Christian values. The steady erosion of such values, with minimal debate about the worldview replacing them, causes us the very greatest concern.

While the cleverly-scheduled press release found its way into the Monday morning papers, its one-sided views have angered some Presbyterians and alienated some LGBT members of congregations along with their friends and families.

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  • DC

    Trevor, fair dues for coming on and explaining. Yes that set up that you tried to arrange is what I was talking about, you tried to claim rent for a place where no rent could plausibly be charged because did or do you not own it outright? Would it not be the case of me calling my bedroom my office and trying to claim rent for it, or something like that?

    Re same sex marriage, I am getting confused, my main concern is forcing the churches into having to marry same sex couples as it would go against core theology, in terms of equal status in terminology, I would have no bother civil partnerships being legally termed ‘civil marriages’, but I just couldn’t see how there could then be a corresponding onus on churches to hold weddings etc for the obvious reasons.

    It’s almost like wanting a protestant service at a catholic chapel, why not? Shouldn’t there be equality there regardless of theology??

    Of course there shouldn’t.

  • DC

    Or to be more precise, a corresponding onus on *all* churches.

  • Comrade Stalin

    my main concern is forcing the churches into having to marry same sex couples

    DC for cryin’ out loud this has been dealt with over and over and over.

    Nobody is forcing the churches to do anything.

    Catholic churches are not forced to marry people who are divorced. Churches are free to conduct whatever ceremonies they want at their own discretion on their own premises.

  • Comrade,

    I’ll not cast aspersions on any individual but my experience is that many people who raise the bugaboo about clergymen (or women) being “forced” to conduct religious services against their will are just raising a smokescreen. For some reason that I can’t understand, they just feel that the idea of two people of the same sex enjoying each other as they see fit is somehow repugnant. It may simply be their conditioning, especially as espoused by their religious “leaders”, even though some of them are homosexual too.

  • Jack2

    Trevor if what Comrade Stalin says is true:
    “Lisburn City Council in 2007, can you think of a good reason why you chose to abstain on a DUP motion to introduce the teaching of creationism in schools ? The minutes show that you were present but you did not raise an objection. ”

    You should be ashamed of your actions on this and your equal marriage vote.

  • DC

    Comrade, I have just re-read the above post again re the motion and based on your comments then it isn’t about religious ceremony, but having the same entitlements and using the same terminology.

    A civil partnership would become a civil marriage instead? This wouldn’t have to be carried out in churches.

    Although even though I read the original post first time round the word ‘marriage’ just seems to be so embedded with church that it is hard to think beyond that situation.

    I believe there wasn’t enough work put into this by those making/supporting the motion, i need things made out crystal clear with simple examples of what such a change would mean in real life.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Jack, to be clear, Trevor was participating in a meeting of the council’s Corporate Services committee. The nationalists present registered their objections. The minutes in question are here.

    Quoting :

    9.3 Revised Curriculum
    Councillor P J Givan

    Following discussion, it was proposed by Councillor P J Givan, seconded by Councillor
    A G Ewart and agreed to recommend that a letter be forwarded to post-primary schools in the Lisburn City area referring to the revised curriculum and asking what plans they had to
    develop teaching material in relation to creation, intelligent design and other theories of origin. Councillor P O’Hagan expressed reservations in respect of this course of action.

    Mister_Joe, I think DC’s just confusing himself by thinking too hard.

    DC, why bother with all that jumping through hoops when we can simply enact equal marriage ? The only people objecting are religious fundamentalists who believe in a theocratic state where their religious beliefs are forced on everyone else via the law.

  • BluesJazz

    Let’s be clear.
    Alliance, the so called NI Liberals – Lib Dems, voice of reason. purpoting to be above the sectarian agenda.

    Come down on the side of creationism and anti gay legislation. The latter going ahead by the Conservative Party.

    So who do secular liberals now vote for in NI?

    Well, SF are at least honest. Even as a Unionist they’re being considered. Alliance are just middle class DUP bigots.

  • Jack2

    Thought perhaps it was just one rogue nutter but after a little googling.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4478314.stm

    “Alliance backs civil partnerships, but its three Lisburn councillors disagree.

    Alliance assembly member Seamus Close proposed a motion preventing the council’s wedding room being used for same-sex unions. ”

    Yet the first paragraph on the Alliance website:
    We’re working to build a shared society, without division, free from sectarianism and prejudice and in which everyone – regardless of religion, gender, class, disability, colour, age, sexuality or nationality – are treated with respect and enabled to fulfil their full potential, free from fear.

    Is there a party in NI untainted by religious fundamentalists?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Jack2,

    Yes. The party criticized Seamus Close for that bad decision in public. Seamus was not active in the party again after the incident, as far as I know he is no longer a member. Trevor might be able to confirm that.

    Seamus was a good representative and did a lot of good stuff but he never forgave John Alderdice for taking the party leadership from under his nose and he sulked constantly ever since, often in ways which brought the party into disrepute (ie over issues such as the speakership of the 1998 assembly).

  • tiggre

    DC, you have your beard in a blaze over this but you are mistaken. I merely asked the question of the Stormont finance authorities about renting an office from a company in which I had an interest (duly revealed on my declaration of interests) I took it no further and you should perhaps reflect on your comments.

  • DC

    Trevor, you may well be right, but answer me this to satisfy my curiosity – did you own the company outright?

    Re same-sex marriage, whenever I see the word ‘marriage’ i just can’t see past a religious ceremony even if it is to be taken out of the church setting and into a different place and context.

    Would I have voted in favour of the motion personally, yes why not.

    Although I think it of merit that some people do stand by their principles.

  • tiggre

    DC I’m glad you are calming down, let me expand further. I am a director, along with my brother of Stanger Properties Ltd, the owners at the time of 36 Bachelors Walk Lisburn, where my insurance business was situated. This business interest is declared in my declaration of interests. The insurance business was sold to Hughes and Company who became and still are our tenants.
    This is entirely separate from the question I asked of the finance office in June 2007 when I was elected. At that time there were queries around MLA’s who were renting from associated companies or relatives and I asked the finance people for clarification, which I received in the form already posted.
    This innocent question is not a matter of public record but I referred to it at an Alliance Party council, in defence of Kieran McCarthy who was being pilloried for renting a room from a relative, just to make the point that he was not breaking the rules as they had been explained to me. I recollect also gently advising Kieran that he might consider terminating the arrangement. I assume that whilst I do not know who you are, you were perhaps at the council. I did not attempt to claim for rent for a non existent office or one which I own.
    On the further query you raise around the same sex marriage vote I don’t think I can add to my earlier comments.

  • tiggre

    I can only deal with one item of abuse at a time, so Jack2 on the creationism and intelligent design issue, Lisburn Council minutes are always short and as a matter of policy do not report individual comments unless an action is requested, hence the recording of Peter O’Hagans reservation.
    From recollection I spoke on this subject in opposition to the letter being sent but there was no formal vote taken and since there were six DUP members present plus the inimitable Ronnie Crawford, neither Peter nor I pressed for a vote.
    Lisburn DUP occasionally passed wacky motions and this was a good example. The schools who bothered to reply, from memory, told the Council politely to mind its own business and rightly so.
    I am not a believer in the crackpot theories of creationism and intelligent design and the only comments I have ever made were critical.
    I did ask Arlene Foster for her opinion as to the age of the Giants Causeway as minister and she wryly responded “between 6000 and 60 million years old”.

  • DC – let’s keep the topic of the post and not get toooo waylaid!

  • Jack2

    Tiggree – thanks for taking the time to put things “straight” 🙂

  • Comrade Stalin

    Tiggree – thanks for taking the time to put things “straight”

    The part that I have got straight is as I suspected, which is basically that the Alliance Party leadership, party council and electorate can all go and get stuffed because Trevor will vote whatever way he damn well pleases.

  • Comrade Stalin

    But I trust that, soon, Trevor will change his position in the same way he did over civil partnerships and stop being part of the fruitcake minority who are dragging us behind the rest of western civilization.

  • Jack2

    CS I’m completely behind you on this issue. Just trying to be civil to Trevor for at least coming here and stating his point of view.

    Mind you he does have form for claiming to be abused:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4478314.stm

  • Comrade Stalin

    Jack, agreed, not everyone comes on here to take criticism from the anonymous internet types.

    As for “abuse” .. reminded of that movie quote “you keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”. In Trevor’s case, “abuse” is when people strongly disagree with one of the bad decisions he made in public.

    In that particular case in 2005, given that Trevor says he has now seen the error of his ways on civil partnerships, perhaps he feels his decision to resign as party chair was an over-reaction.

  • tiggre

    Just for the record CS my record of supporting the party in Stormont votes is good, I certainly don’t make a habit of voting as I damn well please, but your’e entitled to your opinion.
    I’ll exit this correspondence now, it has been an experience to briefly enter your surreal little world .

  • Jack2 – There is a party in the executive untainted by religious fundamentalists. It’s the party that tabled the motion.