The case for gay marriage (fails) in North Down…

To be filed under great heroic failures of our time. This is a copy of Green Party Councillor John Barry’s speaking notes to North Down Borough Council last night.

Just before they knocked back a motion (his own, btw) that the council support equal civil marriage for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered.

On point of information the result was 18 (both Unionist parties and all independents) against, 6 (1 Green plus 5 Alliance). The public gallery was packed, with large representation from churches across the constituency, and a large and disparate crowd in favour.

Over to John

“Mayor, aldermen, councillors, offices and members of the press and public.

It is my honour to put this Notice of Motion before you this evening, my first one as a councillor.

The subject of equal civil marriage for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) citizens is one that will raise concerns and strong debate in this chamber. But it is the right thing to do. And we as politicians must at times take tough decisions, to lead change as well as listen and follow.

I fully understand the some members will have strong, and strongly and sincerely held views opposing this motion, perhaps seeing it wrongly as an attack on the institution of marriage in society. However, this is not the intention behind this Notice of Motion. This Notice of Motion extends rights to Christians and should not be seen as pitting Christians or other faith communities against the rights of the LGBT community. The extension of marriage to those whose sexual identity currently is a barrier to their enjoyment of it, is one that will strengthen not diminish the institution of marriage.

No faith organisation who doesn’t wish to carry out marriages between same-sex couples will be forced to so. (However, those faith organisations – such non-subscribing Presbyterians, liberal Quakers and Jews, Buddhists and others – who wish to carry out these same sex ceremonies should be allowed to).

Equal marriage is recognised in 11 countries worldwide and indeed the current Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and former President of the Republic of Ireland have both recently come out in support of equal marriage.

This debate is not a question of the morality of same sex marriage, or making moral judgements about specific sexual identities, but about how the state arbitrates between the claims of all its citizens and to manage competing moral viewpoints in as equal and as fair a way as possible.

In a free and equal society no one section of society, not even a majority, can impose their particular interpretation of morality on all citizens. To do so would be unjust and unconstitutional. Crime is a matter for the law, sin a matter for religion, and the two cannot coincide within the sphere of politics and legislation.

This debate is about freedom, equality and the principle of the state as protector and guarantor of the rights for all citizens.

It is also important to note that this motion does not require any individual to change their own personal view of the morality or value of same sex marriage.

Equality in a society is not a finite resource that means when one element of the community gets equality it means less for others. Rather equality is like a muscle the more it is extended and used and stronger it becomes and the result is greater equality for all. Equality is not something to be feared, though I accept that for some the changes equal marriage will require will be However, it is not for the state to judge one form of sexual identity to be superior to another, and it violates the very notion of state impartiality in law for a majority sexual orientation or definition of marriage to be the legal norm to the exclusion of all other possible understandings of what marriage entails.

We all know LGBT citizens – though given the homophobia still marring our society it may be that we are not fully conscious of this – they are as loving, caring and as human as anyone else. That their sexual identity is different should not mean they are excluded from any of the rights and responsibilities that are accorded to others of a different though majority sexual orientation.

I would ask those who object to this motion from a Christian perspective to reflect upon the comments from Jurgen Moltman, a German Lutheran theologian, who said: “Christianity is about the Gospel and not about sex …Christians believe in justification of human beings by faith alone, not by faith and heterosexuality”.

I’d like to share with you a quote from one of our Stormont politicians:

“We want to see respect given to our varied and colourful traditions. We want people to be able to express their culture with tolerance and respect, mindful of those who don’t share those values. And we want people who don’t share those values to show tolerance and respect to those who do. Help us build a new Northern Ireland. Not just for some, but for all.”
No, not an excerpt of a speech from Green Party leader, Steven Agnew, but from DUP leader Peter Robinson at his recent party conference.

First minister Robinson went on to state,

“We are the first generation of peacetime unionists for many decades. No longer under siege. Moving forward with confidence and able to reach out. Traditional unionism was never about prejudice, sectarianism, wrecking and division. That was never what Edward Carson (a fellow Dublin-man like myself by the way) stood for. His unionism was about sharing the freedoms, security and bounty of the Union to every citizen, regardless of a person’s religious belief. That’s the kind of society we want to build. I tell you now is the moment”.

To those here in the chamber from the Ulster Unionist Party, I would like to quote from Ulster Unionist MLA Basil McCrea’s speech to the Assembly where an equal marriage motion was proposed by Steven Agnew Green Party MLA. He noted,

“I want to live in an open, tolerant and pluralist society that celebrates diversity, accommodates difference and protects individuals who happen to be different… An important thing in a way forward and a shared future is to accept that we are all different, yet we depend on each other.”

And the sentiment both expresses here is one I would fully endorse and hope the members of those two parties here will follow the spirit of their desire to create a new Northern Ireland. We cannot have a new Northern Ireland where some citizens are unequally treated, where some institutions are the preserve of some and others excluded. So I would urge you all to support this Notice of Motion. And if, for reasons of conviction I fully understand, you cannot bring yourself to support the motion, I would ask that you abstain.

• By prohibiting same-sex marriage and denying its validity, we create a class of citizens who are unequal and of a lower status than the rest.

• By keeping same-sex couples out of marriage, the government is suggesting that one sexual identity is superior to another, the higher standard being that of heterosexual status, this is as problematic and wrong as suggesting unionist or nationalist political identity should be superior to the other.

• The government should neither condone nor condemn any form of sexuality because it creates two classes, insiders and outsiders, and thus furthers inequality between citizens. By prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying, we are essentially supporting the discrimination against a specific group of citizens in our society.

I would like to deal with two of the most common arguments against equal marriage. The first is that it threatens the traditional understanding of marriage as being the union of a man and woman. I think tradition is a very weak ground for any argument, since tradition has historically served to justify great injustices and inequalities from slavery to viewing women as not fit to have the vote. And as that great Irish politician and writer Edmund Burke wisely noted, “”A tradition without the means of change is without the means of its conservation.”

The second, and often linked, is the view that this traditional view of marriage is what the majority in society support. Firstly there is evidence that it is a vocal minority not the majority in society who holds the view. Secondly, rule by the majority, like rule by tradition, is a weak, and indeed a dangerous basis for defending a particular issue. If nothing, the history of Northern Ireland demonstrates the dangers of majority rule without adequate protection and inclusion of minority rights.

In concluding I would like to dedicate this to all those who have worked so hard in our borough and elsewhere to combat the daily neglect and oppression experienced by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, from groups such as the Rainbow Project, courageous Church leaders such as the Rev. Chris Hudson from All Soul’s Church, Canon Charles Kenny, retired from Belfast’s St Anne’s Cathedral, the Rev. Simon Henning, from Ballyblack Presbyterian Church near Newtownards, and organisations such as GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Across Down) and the trades union movement .

In particular I would dedicate this motion to two inspirational and brave citizens of our borough, Dr. Richard O’Leary and the Rev. Mervyn Kingston, who through their tireless efforts with the Church of Ireland group Changing Attitude Ireland have done so much to raise the issue of equality for the LGBT community within and beyond faith organisations.

In both bringing forward this Notion of Motion on Equal marriage, and hopefully it passing, North Down council will be sending out a strong and positive message to those members of the LGBT community within the council, our borough and beyond, that they are viewed and respected as fully equal citizens under the law, and therefore fully equal members of the community. What this Notice of Motion asks for is, to borrow a phrase, one small step for North Down but a giant step for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland and a great stride towards greater equality and the building of a truly shared society in Northern Ireland.

Let us in supporting this motion save Ulster from inequality, save Ulster from injustice, and save Ulster from ignominy.

I urge you all support his motion.

Thank you.”

  • Ruarai

    The case for, above, wasn’t as well made as it might have been.

    Two lines than unnecessarily weakened the case jump out:

    1. “This debate is not a question of the morality of same sex marriage”

    2. “In a free and equal society no one section of society, not even a majority, can impose their particular interpretation of morality on all citizens. To do so would be unjust and unconstitutional.”

    On point one: The broader debate about marriage equality rights is a moral debate – this is exactly what it is: an appeal for the law to catch up with the morally right thing to do. To try to reduce this great civil rights question of our age to a technical legal argument devoid and stripped of its moral force is naive, unpersuasive and, above all, damaging to the case for’s core argument: its moral force.

    Point two: The law is society’s attempt to collectively say what is right and wrong. Liberals do their cause great harm indeed by attempting to reduce morality to mere subjective and private questions of faith and taste. The reason the law should embrace marriage equality rights is, above all, because it is morally the right thing to do.

    The case for marriage rights is a profoundly moral case and should be made on that basis. The case against marriage equality is, above all, immoral.

    But fair play to the speaker for giving it the old college try. It’s just a matter of time and of people stepping up to make the case again and again.

  • Ruarai


    To say this: “I think tradition is a very weak ground for any argument” almost suggests the speaker is entirely ignorant of conservative philosophy – and the extent to which people know, inherently, that tradition is a bloody good failsafe position on most things.

    But the speaker not only is familiar with Burke, he employs Burke – Burke: history’s most passionate advocate of tradition, albeit evolving tradition, as a superior basis for governing than notions of abstract rights – to reinforce the claim that “tradition is a very weak ground for any argument“! Unbelievable!

    I think there is a Burkean case for marriage equality but it is one based on preserving tradition: the tradition of the institution of marriage and the associated benefits of children being raised in loving, stable homes.

  • Mick I don’t call your marriage a straight marriage, nor would I call any marriage I want a gay marriage. Want I want is marriage equality, which also covers those who go through gender reassignment without forcing them to separate from a partner they may then go through a second ceremony to carry on years later. This isn’t just a matter of gay or straight.

    Sorry for being a pedant.

  • socaire

    This is not about equal rights. This is another attempt to put a hole in the dam wall. It is another fight in their battle to have this travesty accepted as normal. It is not normal. It is not traditional and flies in the face of evolution.

  • Reader

    Isn’t one of the Unionist Independents a Hermon hanger-on? Did he vote against the motion too?

  • sherdy

    How does the dictionary define ‘marriage’?

  • andnowwhat

    Marriage is a human construct, not something established by nature. It can adopt its definition according to human understanding of the wonderful diversity of human creation.

    The usual hyperbole follows, such as incestuous marrIage but THAT IS against nature, and is a nonsense to drag up.

    I do think the mainstream churches need a massive look at the relevance of the Old Testament and how it should be regarded.

  • The State, all States, should get out of the marriage business. Civil partnerships should be allowed between any two individuals. Churches can then do as they please.

  • Rossbrown

    Ruari on your points – “Those who oppose same-sex marriage claim that it is indeed an issue of morality, which falls under the category of public welfare, and therefore is within the realm of the state to interfere. In this case, the religious opposition tends to use their view of morality, which states more or less that homosexuality is a sin or against nature as God created it. Needless to say, this does not equate to a secular morality that all citizens can adhere to. Babst refers to the Wolfenden Report, which asserts that “unless a deliberate attempt is made by society, acting through the agency of the law, to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law’s business” (Babst 2002, 43). This suggests that the attempt of religious believers to impose their morality on all citizens is unjust and unconstitutional. Crime is a matter for the law, sin a matter for religion, and the two cannot coincide within the sphere of politics and legislation.”

  • IJP


    Great points.

    Fair play to John Barry for bringing the motion to Council and I support him on it.

    But you make highly important points. If I understand correctly, you are essentially pointing out that morals and tradition are part of society and are in fact legitimate grounds upon which to build a case.

    I agree: morally, freedom of marriage for all is the right thing to have; traditionally, marriage as an institution should be supported and we should not be stopping consenting couples from doing it.


    I’m not sure I’d describe Alan Chambers as a “Hermon hanger-on” – he was entitled to support her as, of course, did lots and lots and lots (don’t I know it…!) of other people.

    I am reminded of the person who said they would vote for Sylvia in preference to me on the grounds she supported the ban on fox-hunting. But she didn’t!

    So, just to put it on the record: Sylvia is opposed to the extension of marriage to same-sex couples as it is to other couples. Alan Chambers clearly agrees with her on that point, as it happens.

  • GoldenFleece

    Socaire, as a biologist I can tell you homosexuality does not fly in the face evolution and it is completely normal for a fraction of a species to have homosexuality tendicies. It’s natures form of population control.

  • TheGoblinPrince

    I don’t see how, if two people want to get married, it is any business of the state or anyone else. It does not affect them, it does not cause anyone any harm and people opposing it is just another example of thinly veiled fascism.

  • All in all, quite a shameful anachronistic Unionist abdication of leading pluralist societies …… Brave New Wwworlds.

    Which is a little something Palace Barracks delivers.

    Just ask them if you don’t think IT is true ….. is a simple solution well able and enabled to answer your questions on IT when true.

  • socaire

    Golden Fleece, as a biologist you would make a good proof reader. Now do you mean that straight males should drift into non reproductive practices, betimes, to control the population or that a ‘fraction’ of normal males should be designated as abnormal to control the population? How do lesbians control the population? By saving themselves from males?

  • ayeYerMa

    Opinion polls right across the UK repeatedly show that there is practically zero public support for this from the general British public. I think the main thing this issue shows is just how completely out of touch many politicians political commentators have become, through their desire to become part of the metropolitan “liberal” elite and be all things to all people.

  • ayeYerMa,

    We generally don’t pass laws based on opinion polls and it can certainly be argued whether that is or isn’t right.
    I remember the debate back in the 60s about abolishing the death penalty. My recollection is that polls showed that the majority of the population opposed abolition for all murders. A poll today, especially after a particularly gruesome murder, might show the same result.

  • TheGoblinPrince

    Why are people against gay marriage? I have not heard a sensible argument against it. They are generally based on religious views and last time I checked, we were not living under the Taliban. If you don’t believe in it then don’t enter into a gay marriage and let those who do get on with it.

  • Prince,

    Canada has permitted same sex marriage for a number of years now and I haven’t detected any signs of society collapsing. Since then, I have been to about 6 weddings, all between a man and a woman.

  • TheGoblinPrince

    Mister_Joe are you sure? Everyone hasn’t turned homosexual and started sodomising each other in the streets? There aren’t bands of lesbians roaming the cities looking for virgins to corrupt? Or do you think people get over excited about things that will have no impact on their lives whatsoever?

  • Toastedpuffin

    This is one of those topics that seems to elicit what in Belfast one might refer to as a quare lot of ballix.

    For me the issue is predominantly one of equality under the law – what we call “marriage” can take place in a theistic religious context, or a purely secular one. That the legal institution of marriage should be denied to gay couples is insupportable. There is no logical defence for this position. Appeals to “nature” (whatever the hell that is) or the opinion of the masses are non-arguments.

    The issue of whether a person refusing to marry a gay couple for “religious” reasons is practicing discrimination is distinct from this.

  • TheGoblinPrince

    Let religions do what they like. But the state shouldn’t discriminate, people can ignore religion, they can’t ignore the law.

  • GoldenFleece


    In a world of infinite resources and infinite territory, ideally a species would reproduce as much as it can. This can be done by pairing off, or more efficiently be polygamous – 1 male for every 40/50 females is all that is needed in theory.

    However in the real world, there is finite resources and finite territory (this is how war started), therefore reproducing as much as you can, as quickly as you can is not ideal. You may not have enough food to feed your young and if you do the food has to spread out more evenly, producing less reobust young and less likely to survive. More young also mean less care for each individual, adults can only devote so much time – therefore young can wonder of and get killed or not learn a certain skill or danger and be killed.

    Nature need a mechanism to combat this.

    It could lower the desire for sexual intercourse – but this could be problematic for groups with low numbers.

    It could make a certain % infertile, and it does to a certain extent, however an infertile individual cannot reproduce in any circumstances, even if the group’s situation is dire – like another group kills half of their group, their group needs urgent reproduction – an individual with homosexual tendices can still reproduce in an emergencey.

    Or nature can make a certain % homosexual. Been attracted to the same sex means that individual is less likely to reproduce, less young in the social group, therefore get more food and more care. Not only that, the homosexual individual will actually care for his siblings children – this is equally ensuring their genes get passed on as having a child themselves, therefore the young get EVEN more care than they would if the whole group was straight.

    That’s the short version. Homosexuality is witnessed in many species on this planet, especially species with highly complex social structures. Homosexuality doubles as population control and extra care to young (esp sibling’s young) ensuring their survival. Some might call homosexuality an evolutionary relic, but it is 100% natural.

    And as clever as our species is, you cannot fight off your evolutionary instincts.

  • Some might call homosexuality an evolutionary relic, but it is 100% natural. …. GoldenFleece 16 November 2012 at 12:28 am

    Methinks an evolutionary alternative is much more accurate a reality, Golden Fleece.

    Do you think it is possible to change, for as long as one desires it, one’s sexuality?

    It could lower the desire for sexual intercourse – but this could be problematic for groups with low numbers.

    Good luck with that non-starter whenever sexual intercourse delivers such divine drivers and heavenly pleasures in its LOVEnvironment.

    Some things just aint gonna be ….. ever.

  • Guess what? Another DUP sex scandal – and a particularly “ugh” one as well, and from a Free Presbyterian Minister to boot. I’ve had enough of taking lectures about the ‘morality’ of my marriage from this shower of hypocrites.

    I’ll repeat the old Paisley line: “When you throw a stone into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that’s hit.” Which party does the most yelping about other people’s sex lives in this part of the world?

  • socaire

    Golden Fleece, you have left me speechless.

  • babyface finlayson

    “On point one: The broader debate about marriage equality rights is a moral debate – this is exactly what it is: an appeal for the law to catch up with the morally right thing to do”
    Surely the point John Barry was making is that irrespective of individual councillors’ reservations about same sex relationships, they have a responsibility to legislate for equality.
    He was simply acknowledging that some do not see same sex relationships as moral.

  • Whether or not there are “absolute” morals is very debatable.
    We no longer think it is moral to send young children to slave in coal mines yet it was perfectly acceptable not much more than 100 years ago. And, of course, the Romans thought it was moral to send Christians into an arena where starving lions would be let loose upon them; good fun too.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Incredibly creepy story Gerry.

    He’s actually part of the loony Caleb foundation too.

  • abucs

    As far as the above evolutionary debate goes i would have thought a larger tribe would have lots of advantages over a smaller tribe, not to mention wild animals and cultivating the land, making technological advances etc etc.

    If there is an over population then wouldn’t starvation ‘solve the problem’ or encourage more predators which would then ‘solve the problem’. Isn’t this how ‘survival of the fittest’ is supposed to work?

    Ignoring basic tenets of ‘survival of the fittest’ then wouldn’t it be more likely that the biological mechanism to reduce population for any theoretical reason be found in, say, sperm level count, reduced number of female eggs, longer menstrual cycles with a reduced window for fertility, making it harder for an egg to fertilise or any one of a thousand other ‘barriers’? Also if problems of food shortage have caused biological homosexuality then wouldn’t there be less homosexuals in “food rich” regions like Fiji and more homosexuality in “food poor” regions like Arctic Canada etc?

    That’s the fun with theories about evolutionary biology, you can fit a lot of what we observe to our own preferences to suit our own politics and people can’t really prove you wrong.

    On marriage between people of the same sex, i am with Joe. The state should get out of dictating what marriage is. People should be free to practice and decide their own civil unions and call it what they like. People should also not be forced to then affirm or condemn other people’s views and practices on civil unions. If people think a certain behaviour is ‘wrong’ or ‘not ideal’ or ‘not to be supported’ they should be free to live and express that opinion in a civilised manner.

    When the state tries to legislate morality at the micro level it is turning loyal citizens into implacable enemies. This is where in a civilised state, freely elected religion is supposed to function.

    It reminds me of Chesterton’s observation that when people get rid of God, the state becomes their god. History shows that is very dangerous.

    The greatest threat to a strong, fully functioning and respected state is those people who want to mis-use it as their god and force others to obey such a god at the micro level.

  • Ruarai at Ruarai at 14 November 2012 at 4:35 pm argues that this is a moral debate. It is in large part. However, we know that morals are not fixed at any particular point. They vary from person to person. If you use morals as the only argument for changing the law, you will lose that argument in Northern Ireland’s largely homophobic population.

    I prefer to think of the argument as protecting the majority by looking after the interests of a minority. The fact that the issue is an emotive one for gay people is an important fact on its own. Failure to implement the reform is a mild form of oppression. If you oppress and exclude any group, that oppression comes back to ‘bite back’ the majority in some other way. We want all law-abiding communities within a nation to feel that they are respected. Without that you fail to maximise happiness, confidence, and unity in a nation.

    The Victorian era might look like a bad time for the weakest in society and so it was and the Victorians did not do anything which would have allowed the gay community to be liberated. However, the Victorians, faced with a massive and very threatening criminal underclass did begin to understand the link between oppression of the poor and criminality. That led to pioneering of many of the great social reforms in 19th century.