“People are being treated differently in NI because of their sexual orientation & that cannot be acceptable”

After a long period of reflection and internal discussion The Equality Commission today published a policy document on Promoting Sexual Orientation Equality: Priorities and Recommendations.

SOME-NI logoThe Chief Commissioner Michael Wardlow said:

People are being treated differently in Northern Ireland because of their sexual orientation and that cannot be acceptable in the 21st century.

In summary, the paper “recommends that legislation should be introduced to permit same sex marriage and adoption and that a ban on blood donations from any group, including men who have sex with men, must be based on clear medical evidence”.

The forty page policy begins by justifying the The Equality Commission’s intervention. The independent public body established under the Northern Ireland Act 1988 has particular duties under the sexual orientation equality legislation.

It has a duty to work to eliminate unlawful sexual orientation discrimination and harassment, to promote equality of opportunity, and to keep the working of the legislation under review.

The Commission is also empowered [to] offer advice to public authorities and others in connection with the duties imposed by Section 75 of the [Northern Ireland Act 1998]. It is also empowered to authorise investigations into alleged failures by such authorities to comply with equality scheme commitments.

Three priority areas for strategic action are recommended in the document.

  • tackling prejudicial attitudes and behaviour towards LGB individuals; specifically in relation to homophobic hate crime and violence; harassment both inside and outside the workplace and homophobic bullying in schools; and
  • promoting positive attitudes towards LGB individuals; and
  • raising awareness of the rights of LGB people; both amongst LGB people themselves and amongst those with responsibilities under the sexual orientation equality legislation.

In a section entitled Strengthening Legal Protections, The Equality Commission makes three specific recommendations:

  • reform sexual orientation equality law so as to ensure robust legislative protection for LGB individuals against discrimination and harassment, as well as to strengthen enforcement of the legislation;
  • introduce legislation that permits same-sex marriage and provides heterosexual couples access to civil partnerships on the same basis as that available to same sex couples;
  • extend the scope of adoption legislation so as to allow unmarried couples, those in civil partnership and same sex couples to apply to be considered as adoptive parents.

ECNI finds public support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the 2012 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey where “57% of those surveyed indicated they were in favour of the legalisation of same-sex marriages” (32% indicated this should not be legalised and 11% didn’t know).

7.9 Marriage is a civil institution as well as a religious one and the State recognises equal rights in other aspects of civil life. We consider that it cannot justify preventing people from marrying unless there are good reasons for doing so and a person’s sexual orientation is not a justifiable reason …

7.11 In addition, we are of the view that by insisting marriages and civil partnerships are kept separate, organisations and individuals perpetuate the notion that relationships between same-sex couples are not ‘as valid’ as those between homosexual couples.

7.12 In addition, we are of the view that by insisting marriages and civil partnerships are kept separate, organisations and individuals perpetuate the notion that relationships between same-sex couples are not ‘as valid’ as those between homosexual couples …

7.15 The Commission supports the availability of civil partnerships to opposite-sex and same-sex couples on the same basis.

7.16 In 2004, in our response to the consultation on Civil Partnership in Northern Ireland we noted we were “disappointed that this opportunity has not been used to extend the civil registration process to heterosexual co-habiting couples”. We also noted “We fail to understand the reasoning behind excluding opposite sex couples from availing of this process as several other European countries provide civil registration for both same sex and opposite sex couples.”

7.17 We consider that the extension of civil partnerships to opposite sex couples will remove potential discrimination against heterosexuals. Many people do not wish to marry and yet cannot avail of the tax allowances enjoyed by married couples and those in civil partnerships. We consider that access to civil partnership by opposite sex couples would give greater legal and financial security in areas including inheritance, housing in terms of transfer of tenancies and pensions.

The Equality Commission’s Sexual Orientation – More Equality microsite has more details and resources. At the time of posting, political reaction to The Equality Commission’s leadership and policy publication is muted with no obvious press releases on any local party website.

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  • Charles_Gould

    Its great to see all these moves to encourage greater equality in areas and aspects other than the old-style two-religion model. Equality for gay and lesbian people has still a long way to be taken further. And equality for women has a lot further to go too.

    The work of the equality commission has a long way to go. I now have a transvestite in my work place as a colleague – its great to see people being accepted more and more.

    The new equality agenda is about sexual identity , ageism, ethnic minorities, women, learning difficulties, aspergers, etc., not just religion.

    There is no end to the work of the Equality Commission.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Can anybody define what civil marriage is?

  • Charles_Gould

    Civil marriage is marriage recognised by government.

  • Coll – A civil marriage tends to be a non-religious service conducted by a registrar in a licensed premises.

  • sherdy

    Alan, – ‘in a licensed premises’. In a pub?

  • Charles_Gould

    I think civil weddings can be performed anywhere now.

    In France civil weddings are the only ones recognized by the state.

  • Charles_Gould

    How would people feel about a three-way wedding?

    I knew a bisexual lady once with a partner of each sex. It seemed to be mutually agreeable. (If a tad wierd).

  • Charles – to quote Belfast City Council … “There is [sic] several places in Belfast which have licences to hold civil marriage and partnership ceremonies, subject to the availability of a registrar. Ceremonies can be at 12pm or 3pm, Monday to Saturday. [followed by a list of hotels and venues]”.

    Venues pay BCC £400 for a three year licence.

    Councils may also approve temporary venues.

  • Charles_Gould

    Alan

    Thanks – interesting.

    Did you know that same sex marriage was not ruled out in the UK legislation until the 1960s, because nobody ever thought of such a thing until then.

    Further restrictions still in place: a man may not marry his mother (also step-mother, former step-mother, mother-in-law, former mother-in-law, adoptive mother or former adoptive mother); daughter (also step-daughter, former step-daughter, daughter-in-law, former daughter-in-law, adoptive daughter or former adoptive daughter); sister (also half-sister); father’s mother (grandmother); mother’s mother (grandmother); father’s father’s former wife (step-grandmother); mother’s father’s former wife (step-grandmother); son’s daughter (granddaughter); daughter’s daughter (granddaughter); wife’s son’s daughter (step-granddaughter); wife’s daughter’s daughter (step-granddaughter); son’s son’s wife (grandson’s wife); daughter’s son’s wife (grandson’s wife); father’s sister (aunt); mother’s sister (aunt); brother’s daughter (niece); sister’s daughter (niece).

    Adoptive parents may not marry adopted children. But adopted siblings can. And your genetic cousins are available too.

  • Charles_Gould

    Regarding this ban on the blood donor if he has had sex with another man…..do you know if there is a time limit on that? Suppose someone had same sex sex more than 10 years ago?

  • Coll Ciotach

    To me this is impossible to debate if we cannot agree what marriage is – if you accept what Humpty Dumpty Gould says – that it means what the government mean it to say then we should just sit back and await their learned dictum.

    However I think that in today’s world that does not pass muster.

    It seems to me that marriage – according to the noice equality agenda people – is based solely on love. If you love someone you should be able to marry them, after all that is what some people can do so all should do it. But surely if you believe that then you should be also saying that the barriers of consanguinity and numbers also go, because, let us face it, what happens in the bedroom is nobody elses business. (does anyone actually believe that?).

    To be completely fair and equal the govt should not be in the marriage arena at all. It is not their business.

  • gaygael

    Yes. Thus is patently true.
    Delighted that the equality commission has finally made a serious policy punt on this issue. Some may say about time.

  • Things move slowly but they do move. When I emigrated from N.I. 32 years ago people could still be jailed for being homosexual.

  • Harry Flashman

    “But surely if you believe that then you should be also saying that the barriers of consanguinity and numbers also go, because, let us face it, what happens in the bedroom is nobody elses business.”

    Oh come now Coll Ciotach, have you not being paying attention recently?

    Don’t you realise that gays are the new social conservatives? Are you not aware that gays are so in favour of conventional morality today that they not only want to get into conventional marriages but when they do so they will fight tooth-and-nail to defend that tradtional institution.

    No hint of consanguinity, polygamy or any other non-traditional aspect of marriage will be permitted by gays, just as soon as you accept same-sex marriage of course. I know I have difficulty following the logic too but then I’m an old traditionalist fuddy-duddy and no doubt a closet(?) homophobic. I can’t help myself really.

    The only solution for people like you and I is to sit down and watch as much modern British and American tv dramas and soap operas as possible, they explain everything. You see apparently the notion of gays being, you know, gay in the sense that they cheerfully disregarded the stuffy old bourgeois conventions and mores in favour of a liberated life of wild and joyous abandon are now over.

    Nowadays, well at least according to the media, gays are simply yearning for a life of domestic bliss, living in their well-appointed little semi in the suburbs with a job in town and raising two-point four kids while if the media portrayal is correct apparently all them conventional “breeders” are psychotic, dysfunctional, alcoholic, weird, repressed, neurotic, child-abusing, bigoted, pill-popping, God-bothering freaks who couldn’t raise a child properly if their lives depended on it, not like the nice well-balanced gay couples.

    It’s true, I saw it on the telly so it must be true.

  • Charles_Gould

    Though Harry you are being ironic, in fact many gays do just want to be able to do the same things as straight people. Having a wedding and a family are those things.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Then marry a woman and get on with it

  • Charles_Gould

    Coll: that is what they had to do in the past, which was not good for either the man or the woman. We as a society now recognise orientation is not something people can change. Hence gay marriage, to allow equality.

  • Turgon

    To take Harry and Coll Ciotach’s comments and enlarge on them. The Chief Commissioner Michael Wardlow said:

    The Chief Commissioner Michael Wardlow said:

    “People are being treated differently in Northern Ireland because of their sexual orientation and that cannot be acceptable in the 21st century.”

    Well maybe but his solution is to introduce homosexual marriage. That marriage is, however, different to hetrosexual marriage as the rules regarding divorce for infedilety are different in England and Wales as are the rules on annulment for non consumation.

    Moving on homosexuals can now avail of both civil partnerships and homosexual marriage in England and Wales (and soon Scotland). Hetrosexuals can only avail of marriage.

    Polygamy is legal in the sense that it is not a criminal offence but if one tries to form a formal union with two persons that becomes the crime of bigamy which is still routinely prosecuted in the UK. If as Charles_Gould states it is only about love why can polygamous groups not marry?

    Furthermore the claim that LGB people are treated unfairly and this will fix the situation is untrue. Bisexuals cannot form a formal bond with partners of both sexes: Discrimination against bisexuals.

    The situation becomes even more unfair with adult consensual incest whereby the act of sex is actually a crimninal offence in just the same way as homosexual acts were criminal offences in the bad old days.

    If we want equality and presumably that is the role of the Equality Commission then that is what we need to have. For the commissioner to call for equality only for single partner non related same sex couples is utterly hypocritical especially as he is not calling for civil partnerships to be available to hetrosexuals.

  • Harry Flashman

    More tongue-in-cheek than ironic Charles but seriously like the blood donation thing the gay marriage campaign involves an infinitesimal number of people and is no great hardship compared to the societal problems they could lead to.

    I know what I am about to say will elicit shrieks of derision but in actual fact my best mate (well best, white, male friend anyway) really is gay and in a civil partnership and he would actually fit entirely into the tiny minority of gays who lead a (mostly, Friday nights are special nights) dull, suburban life in a committed (though as he admits himself not particularly monogamous) relationship.

    My gay best friend is a complete disappointment to me of course instead of the media portrayal of a fabulous free spirit with an eye for interior decor and constant witty bon mots he is in fact a six-foot, overweight, beer-drinking, cricket-loving Yorkshireman.

    Unlike most “professional gays”, however, with their well-polished chip on each shoulder he scoffs at the notion of gay marriage, he got what he required in immigration regulations, financial security and healthcare from his civil partnership.

    He regards the gay marriage campaign as part of a political agenda exploiting gays by others to undermine political opponents and rejects it (he’s a bit of an oul’ Tory at heart I think). He is gay after all, he has always believed himself to be and has enjoyed his position as outside tedious conventional heterosexual morality and sees no wish to be part of something he long ago publicly, proudly and explicitly rejected.

    As he so succinctly put it, “Ah yew great pillock, yah’d love ta see me dressed up in a big fluffy bridal gown wouldn’t yah?”

    (And at this point I’ll back off as I don’t know which group of inordinately chippy people, gays or Yorkshire people, I’ve more offended more with that remark)

  • Doug

    Turgon
    ” For the commissioner to call for equality only for single partner non related same sex couples is utterly hypocritical especially as he is not calling for civil partnerships to be available to hetrosexuals.”

    Just FYI and in the interests of accuracy, from the actual orinial post

    ” In a section entitled Strengthening Legal Protections, The Equality Commission makes three specific recommendations ”

    the 2nd of which is

    ■introduce legislation that permits same-sex marriage and provides heterosexual couples access to civil partnerships on the same basis as that available to same sex couples;

  • Turgon

    Doug,
    That is interesting but still exposes the Commissioner’s rank hypocrisy. He wants civil partnerships for hetrosexual and homosexual couples. If equality is for all then whataboutery is the only response as all must be equal.

    Hence, whatabout the siblings who loves together (platonicly) for years. They are deprived of a civil partnership (or marriage) and the inheretance advantages with accrue from that. If the siblings chose to have a sexual realtionship their actions would be a crime.

    Then whatabout Muslim families where the man wants to have up to four wives as is Islamically correct. If the wife agrees why is that not allowed. There are even some polyandrous groups in Nepal.

    The commissionsers hypocritical call also leaves out bisexuals who may wish to form committed unions with both a man and a woman.

  • Rory Carr

    Oh dear, Doug. You’ve gone and done it now and left poor old Turgon sitting on a two-legged stool.

  • Rory Carr

    Incidentally, while I am about it, I am so pleased to see such an example of Turgon’s new liberal credentials if a wee bit surprised at the turn it has taken. Still, if Turgon has taken up campaigning for the rights of Muslim men to marry multiple wives (well, up to seven anyhow) and for me to marry my sister or, even, my Aunt Minnie, age 87 (deceased), then good on him.

    I might add however that I hope he will not feel rejected if I fail to exercise any new-found freedom his campaigning awards to me with regard to Minnie (that hairy mole on her chin and her expensive pipe-smoking and whiskey-drinking habits, while always endearing, were a wee bit too rich for my blood).

  • Turgon

    Rory,
    Far, far from it. My position is simple. Either marriage is for one man and one woman or it is for everyone.

    One can make a rational case for opposite sex two person marriage on the basis of history etc. Alternatively one should have equality.

    Personally considering the recent changes, I would like to see civil marriage become a secular system with church weddings separate for those who want them. Marriage (or preferably civil partnerships) would be a separate secular institution for anyone and any number of persons of appropriate age.

    The problem as I see it is the conflation of a religious institution (which in this country’s case is two persons of opposite sex) and the secular system of marriage. Since the state has departed from the religious version of marriage then marriage would be better to become a wholly religious concept separate to the state’s system.

  • Doug

    Turgon, apologies for the delay in replying.
    Assuming you have offered a general opinion and aren’t just engaging in reductio ad abusurdum, then surely the aims and efforts of the Equality commission will evolve and change over time. Today it’s Gay Marriage, in years time it might be Polygamy among the Mormon community. The notion that individuals deserve to be treated equally ( within the curent societies standards ) will maintain, though always with those who disagree.
    If I may indulge slightly, Morgan Freeman is 71 years old. Slavery was abolished in the U.S. in 1886, 71 years before he was born. So literally 2 Morgan Freemans ago you could own a black human being in the US and consider them your property.
    Please don’t misundersand, I don’t compare the 2 situations, I merely use the example ( and the name for context of the time scale ) to demonstrate how quickly and massively what is legally allowed AND socially acceptable can change.
    Maybe today the Equality Comissioner supports equal mariage righs for gay and heterosexual couples. Who’s to say that in a few years there won’t be a movement to allow co-habiting siblings similar inheritance and tax rights, providing they have registered for them. I personaly don’t see a problem with that, even if I’d question it’s relevance to a topic about Marriage as an institution.

  • Turgon

    Doug,
    That is not a complete defence of the Equality Commissioner. Self evidently there is an inequality for the groups you and I mention. As such the Equality Commissioner should be highlighting that now and not waiting for a campaign on the subject. Equal rights should not depend on a cause being “trendy” and the Equality Commissioner should stand up for those discriminated against. Not to do so but rather to be partial and suppoort a “trendy” cause whilst leaving other people unequal is hypocritical.

  • Doug

    Turgon,
    I didn’t say it was a complete defence of the Equality Commissioner, I don’t know enough about the Institutions work to make one.
    Seems to me though, what you refer to as supporting a trendy cause could equally be described as prioritising your battles tactically so as to effect maximum change.

  • Framer

    I notice the Equality Commission for all its noble sentiments can’t bring itself to address the question it has avoided to date of getting the schools exemption from section 75 on sexual orientation removed. They are not ‘designated’ so gay staff and pupils can get no such legal protection.
    It is easy to be right-on where you have no role, masking your failure where you do.

  • I note quite a lot of reference to “the commissioner”. The policy published reflects the commissioners (plural) though it was fronted by the chief commissioner.

  • ayeYerMa

    When are people going to grow a brain and break this notion that everything and everything that is not the same must be “equal”. Why is a body based on such a logical fallacy even allowed to exist and receive public funding?

  • Doug –

    > Who’s to say that in a few years there won’t be a movement to allow co-habiting siblings similar inheritance and tax rights, providing they have registered for them. I personaly don’t see a problem with that, even if I’d question it’s relevance to a topic about Marriage as an institution.

    In some cases, church support for civil partnership legislation was allegedly based around the fact it was supposed to include legal protection for co-habiting siblings – though this was eventually dropped.

  • gaygael

    It’s diss painting that it has taken the equality commission until now to finally speak up on issues of sexual orientation.

    The key point in this argument is the differential on the basis of sexual orientation.
    Are children and young people bullied at school for being straight or perceived as straight?
    Are people thrown out of family homes for being straight?
    Are people attacked in the street or their homes for being straight?
    We know they aren’t, but these are daily realities for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Northern Ireland.

    And of course all the oul homophobes weigh in on this issue, and Turgon again repeats the nonsense about bisexual people being discriminated against. This is deliberately disingenuous and I don’t believe he gives a hoot about bisexual people.

    Today on Nolan we had people calling for recriminilisation of same sex activity. It is these horrific attitudes that we must challenge and change. Unionist politicians are particularly culpable by giving succour to these type of attitudes. Last week Tom Buchanan told a group of students that it wasn’t right and an abomination. He was rightly shocked by stats presented at the same event that 70% of young people present didn’t expect to still Be living in fermanghna in 10 years, and that 68% of those young people knew someone that had contemplated suicide. He was too thick to join the dots.

    Legislative equality on the basis of sexual orientation is coming to Northern Ireland. Be on the right side of history. I and many tens of thousands like me, our friends, our families and our allies, will not allow these inequalities to stand. Either stormont does the job or we will drag them through the court at every junction. Eh poots?

    Conservatives have resisted every step o equality across these islands, from catholic emancipation, universal suffrage, women’s, racial and other miniorties equality. They lost every time and will lose on these issues.

  • gaygael

    And politically sf and alliance have both come forward today.
    Farry clearly talked about marriage being an equality issue. Would be great if he could make sure his 3 AWOL mlas would understand this and ensure that they vote according to policy the next time it comes to the assembly.

  • Turgon

    gaygael,
    You keep ignoring the point. Same sex activity is criminalised in this country as is opposite sex activity between consenting adults if those adults are biologically related. I fail to see how you can fail to protest against this clear discrimination and then claim to be supportive of equal rights. The same argument pertains to marriage between polygamous groups whether they been heterosexual or bisexual (at least their having sexual activity is not criminalised). Then there is the issue of non sexually linked siblings or any other non sexually linked groups. Why should sexual activity be raised to this odd level whereby it makes a relationship superior to non sexual relationships?

    As I said above my position is clear. There are two logical options: firstly the position that marriage is between a man and a woman or else marriage is between those who wish to be married and are of an age to consent to it whatever their numbers and sexuality.

    The only other option and one I am becoming convinced might be the best would be for the state to cease to recognise marriage and only recognise civil partnerships between anyone and anyone (plural or singular). That would leave marriage up to the assorted faith communities and allow them to have whatever rules they want. The problem there being that the faith communities would need to be protected against discrimination for refusing marriage to whom they do not wish to extend it. However, since in such a scenario marriage would cease to be a matter for the state it would like other religious rites be an issue for each faith community

  • Charles_Gould

    Turgon
    In the case of biologically related people, there is an argument based on genetics that suggests that it is not good for them to have children.

  • Coll Ciotach

    But they can still be married Charles or is there a linkage between marriage and children?

  • Turgon

    Charles_Gould,
    There are so many flaws in that argument it is difficult to know where to begin. However, a number spring instantly to mind:

    Firstly criminalising sexual behaviour because of the risk of a possible child born of that union is unjust and against equality.

    If, however, one wishes to start down that ultra regressive and illiberal position there are still a series of contradictions inherent in it.

    The risk of the children of first cousin marriages having genetic defects is actually no higher than the risk in older mothers (i.e. over 34). I trust you are not proposing to ban sex for women who can still have children and are over the age of 34 but have not yet had the menopause.

    In the case of autosomal recessive conditions your position is even more problematic. The risk of a couple with a first child who has cystic fibrosis (an autosomal recessive condition) having a second affected child is 1 in 4. As such by your logic a couple with a first child with CF should be banned from having sex lest they have a further affected child.

    It gets worse: If one partner has an autosomal dominant condition there is a 1 in 2 chance of their children having that condition (achrondoplastic dwarfism is an example). As such by your logic any person with an autosomal dominant condition should be banned from having sex lest any possible child has a genetic abnormality.

    Keeping purely on the logic of risk of abnormalities in the breeding of certain rare breed animals (the case I know about is sheep) one can breed a ram with a ewe and then again with the ewe lambs of the offspring of the first ewe. This does not create a high rate of genetic abnormalities. I am not relating human to animal sexual behaviour merely pointing out that in genetic terms your position is factually flawed.

    As I said above your argument is factually utterly flawed. If, however, one uses such an argument one must then add the logical consequences of justifying the banning of consanguineous unions. At that point one is left with a ghastly eugenics nightmare.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Since the state has departed from the religious version of marriage then marriage would be better to become a wholly religious concept separate to the state’s system.”

    That appears to be the logical outcome of pursuing this absurd piece of ideological coat trailing (which had never even entered anyone’s head a dozen or so years ago) dreamed up by the American left in their university campuses.

    Why we must always slavishly follow every whim of the US campus Marxists in their ideological war against the US Christian right I have no idea.

    Churches will perform their “holy matrimony” according to their rules and they will have the same status as civil marriages conducted by the state.

    So to follow it all to its logical conclusion, and no it is not an absurdo reducto thingy (we’re discussing gay marriage here, if someone had suggested that when homosexuality was first legalised wouldn’t he have been accused of raising red herrings?).

    Muslims will be perfectly entitled to claim second or third wives (de facto this already exists in the UK just no one wants to talk about it) while bi-sexuals with more than one partner, consenting adult incestuous relationships ete etc will of course be recognised by the state, there would be no legitimate grounds to refuse them.

    Welcome to the Brave New World folks, don’t blame me, I am an old fashioned conservative, I’ll be sipping my sundowner on my porch in SE Asia enjoying the sight of the societal collapse of a once mighty and proud people, scratching my head in bewilderment, while rather more robust and conservative cultures rise to pick over the remains of what you all left behind.

    I hear in the initial days of the collapse of the Roman Empire the hedonistic side of things was actually alot of fun.