Marriage equality: Yes vote will build unstoppable momentum in Northern Ireland

ailgbt2The Republic will make history tomorrow.

That’s if the polls are correct and a majority opt for Yes in the marriage equality referendum. If that happens, Ireland will become the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.

An IPSOS/Irish Times survey, taken last week, shows that, excluding undecided voters, 70% of people intend to vote Yes, while 30% for No.

However, Yes campaigners are warning against complacency, advising the outcome is likely to come down to which side can ‘get the vote out’. Older voters, arguably more likely to oppose the change, constitute the demographic which is traditionally most likely to vote. But there are reports of a surge of late voter registration among first-time and younger voters, energised by the prospect of shaping Ireland as a forward-looking place to live.

While all the main political parties are, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, backing a Yes vote, it is the civil society Yes Equality initiative which has led the campaign.

Amnesty International has been prominent among the campaign groups pressing for a Yes vote, making clear that the referendum is about equality and the fundamental human right not to suffer discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, while dissecting some of the red herrings promoted by the No campaign.

On the face of it, the level of popular support for same-sex marriage is extraordinary, when one considers that the Republic only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, five years after a finding by the European Court in Strasbourg that Ireland’s anti-gay laws were in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.

But the Republic has been changing rapidly over recent decades. In particular, the country has become increasingly secular, with the influence of the Catholic Church – moral authority tarnished by repeated scandal – in decline. While the bishops have published the expected pastoral letters arguing against change, it feels like there is none of the conviction of days of old, when they could expect church goers to follow meekly. Numerous members of the clergy have gone public with their intention to vote Yes. Prominent Catholic layperson and former President, Mary McAleese has revealed that she contemplated leaving the Church over their attitude towards gay people, as she related how her son Justin experienced homophobic bullying while growing up in unequal Ireland.

If the opinion polls translate into a Yes vote tomorrow, the Republic will join England, Scotland and Wales in legislating for same-sex marriage.

Of course, that means that Northern Ireland will be left as the only part of these islands where gay couples will continue to be denied the right to get married. Our politicians have now voted on four occasions to reject same-sex marriage in the Assembly. Indeed, the DUP has vowed to use a petition of concern to veto any same-sex marriage Bill, even if it has majority support among MLAs, which appears certain if SDLP and Alliance MLAs did not go ‘missing in action’ during crucial votes.

Given this political failure, it seems that recognition of same-sex marriages will only happen in Northern Ireland via the courts, a move which Amnesty backs.

L&T survey pieIt’s clear the parties are out of step with the people. The 2013 NI Life and Times Survey showed 59% to 29% support for same-sex marriage in the north, even before the measure was introduced in the rest of the UK. With same-sex marriages increasingly commonplace elsewhere, those figures would likely be even higher now.

A resounding yes vote in the Republic will echo around the world – of how a once socially conservative country can choose to cherish, in the words of the 1916 proclamation, ‘all the children of the nation equally’. In a world where prejudice against and persecution of LGBTI people is still commonplace, the power of that message should not be underestimated.

For now, though, the marriage equality campaign is focused on the south, and human rights campaigners in Northern Ireland are calling for a strong Yes vote, knowing that success there will build unstoppable momentum north of the border.

The right to equal civil marriage for gay people will come to Northern Ireland. It’s now a matter of when and how, not if.

A version of this article appears in today’s Irish News.

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  • chrisjones2

    I am sorry but it wont build any momentum at all. The dinosaurs will graze on as usual until the meteorite strikes

  • mickfealty

    in the longer term, possibly, and more than likely yes.

    In the shorter term, we have a representative democracy only here. There’s no direct means (like a referendum) for getting those representatives off the hook of their constituents opinion, which in aggregate mostly means they won’t bring it forward.

    Legal activism is likely to remain only route for change (and for blocking change) here for now.

  • Chingford Man

    It’s sad that Amnesty has morphed into yet another cheerleader for authoritarian political correctness when it once did important work in standing up for those suffering genuine human rights abuses.

    If “marriage equality” is a “fundamental human right” in 2015, why was it not so regarded by Amnesty until relatively recently?

    It’s also striking to note Corrigan’s contempt for representative democracy. He wants to bypass the repeated expressed will of the Assembly and get gay marriage approved by the back door of the high court on “human rights” ground.

    If Amnesty really was serious about standing up for people being oppressed by the state on the grounds of consicence it would be supporting the McArthur family.

  • chrisjones2

    “off the hook of their constituents opinion”

    I honestly disagree. I think the constituents probably would vote yes. The problem is the politicians are swayed by a hard core of noisy religious fundamentalists

  • mickfealty

    Not quota by quota, from where they are. Liberalism is a big city metropolitan pursuit. The kind of cross NI coalitions needed to sow power together at Stormont negates that sort of maneuvering at least in the short term.

  • Dan

    More nonsense from Corrigan.
    There south’s referendum will have no bearing on NI.
    This week’s events in court may have hardened a few minds against supporting the issue too.

  • chrisjones2

    You mean the bigots will be more entrenched?

  • chrisjones2

    …are our rural communities really so much less liberal in the privcy of the home or ballot box?

    In my experience they are just as much hotbeds of vice and adultery and well lubricated with alcohol (except Ballymena where its the Bible or Heroin)

  • Petronius

    It will come down to the DKs. In recent referendums they usually vote no. However on a moral issue it could be different. Some will have LGBT relatives.

  • Petronius

    Dan you may be right but heres how I predict things as a southerner. I predict Northerners who want gay marriage will go South and marry there, then go North and run to the courts to try to get them recognised there.

  • David

    The recent Westminster election shows that polls often need to be taken with a very large pinch of salt and I suspect the ‘No’ vote will be considerably higher than 30%.

    As far as NI is concerned, the DUP have zero reasons to stop playing the petition of concern card. Wells remarks and the continued hardline stance on abortion and LGBT matters in general seem to have done the party marginal electoral damage at most, while keeping the evangelical hardliners on board. By contrast, SFs more open minded stance on the issue saw their vote dip this time. That dip was unikely to be related to the equal marriage issue, but it clearly didn’t do them any good either.

    Obnoxious though it may be, the fundamentalist DUP formula works for their electorate and it would seem pointless to change at this stage.

    I confidently predict the southern referendum will make zero difference to the land that time forgot.

  • Petronius

    The election of Danny Kinahan suggests Unionist opinion on gay marriage may be started to change.

  • Petronius

    Nationalists will now have a new argument for a United Ireland come Saturday (at least if you’re LGBT)

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Great hyperbole there!

  • Petronius

    Tiocfaidh ár Grá

  • Dan

    They’ll know which judge to look out for

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    And are guaranteed votes regardless of their stance on anything other than green or orange. They don’t have to worry about the “extraneous” issues, Jenny Palmer’s resignation, Stormont Committee findings, abuse of POCs, agreeing to welfare reform and then changing their minds, inter alia. Let’s face it, this is both a fledgeling democracy (even experimental) and an abnormal one. The power sharing executive must never fall irrespective of the cost to the good name of democracy.
    The constituents may disagree but the Stormont bubble will remain hermetically sealed (thanks to the constituents).

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Are our judges biased now? I thought it was just the great unwashed.

  • Chingford Man

    Wrong. Hyperbole is not meant to be taken literally. I mean exactly what I say.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Explain “authoritarian political correctness” please and keep within the context. Explain how exactly the Mc Arthurs are being “oppressed by the state on the grounds of consicence (sic)”. Please refer to facts and avoid hyperbole.

  • Chingford Man

    I don’t have time just now to write you a personal essay so will refer to Gerald Warner in Breitbart yesterday.

    http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/05/20/let-them-eat-cake-the-victimization-of-christian-bakers-signals-its-time-to-fight-back/

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I don’t have time to read the whole thing but the headlines’ exaggerated claims made me laugh so thanks. Being found to have acted in breach of equality law is not persecution (£500 agreed damages and their case funded by the Christian Inst). According legal rights to all in society is not denying anyone anything nor undermining anything. Yeah fight back by all means but against what exactly?
    Now read Don Quixote.

  • Korhomme

    Rather sadly, in my rural redoubt there are no pubs or hostelries; if there is vice in the form of strip clubs, it’s passed me by; and there aren’t queues of women looking to adulterate with me. There’s no heroin either. 🙁

  • Old Mortality

    Once upon a time, Amnesty drew attention to extreme violations of human rights across the world. Clearly they’ve all been sorted out since the local representative seems to have nothing more to worry about than homosexual marriage.

  • Chingford Man

    20-25 years ago, Amnesty was approached by some border Protestants concerning the nature of the IRA’s sectarian campaign. Funnily enough, Amnesty did not wish to get involved. Obviously some human rights abuses were and are worse than others.

  • Turgon

    Chingford Man and Old Morality make interesting points. There was a time when Amnesty was most interested in human rights abuses. It was able to attract support from a surprisingly diverse part of the political spectrum for this especially in regards to torture and capital punishment.

    To be fair, however, NI Amnesty seems the one which has most forgotten about this. I blogged on the Indonesian executions and at the time noted that whilst Amnesty GB had commented on them, Amnesty NI had said not a word on either their website nor Facebook page. We are now facing the prospect of the American Government (rather than a state) proposing to execute a man yet we hear nothing. Assorted American states are proposing to commence the latest in their circus of untried execution strategies: nitrogen gas and yet Amnesty NI is fixated almost exclusively on homosexual marriage and abortion. Maybe when the referendum is over Mr. Corrigan’s organisation will see fit to comment on these human rights abuses.

  • Chingford Man

    What evidence do you have that floating unionist voters in South Antrim went for the UUP because of Kinahan’s support for gay marriage?

    Of course, Kinahan’s vacant Stormont seat could well go to Adrian Watson who has a different view on social matters.

  • Chingford Man

    Corrigan’s piece in the Bellylaugh today shows the distance Amnesty has travelled from its starting point in 1961. Now it has joined formerly respected large charities like Oxfam in the left-wing quicksand.

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/news-analysis/david-camerons-rights-bill-is-a-fallacy-31239631.html

    It’s “Old Mortality”, by the way, which is also the name of a rather splendid Scott novel set in the Ayrshire of the Covenanters.

  • chrisjones2

    Try Ballymena. Bonk on the banks of the Braid or mainline by the Maine

  • JohnTheOptimist

    It rather depends on the margin of victory (assuming the ‘Yes’ side win). Social attitudes in N. Ireland are closer to those in rural Ireland than to those in Dublin. I doubt if there is much more support for gay marriage in Tyrone, Fermanagh and Armagh than in Donegal, Monaghan and Westmeath. Indeed, possibly less, since as well as the fairly evenly-split Catholic population, the northern counties have many more Presbyterians and Evangelicals, who are strongly against gay marriage.

    If there is a resounding victory for ‘Yes’, with even rural Ireland voting in favour, I’d say that will accelerate the introduction of gay marriage to N. Ireland. But, if its a narrow (say 55%-45%) victory, with the victory being achieved only by a large Dublin majority, and most rural counties, especially those close to the border, voting against, then I’d say it will actually put back the introduction of gay marriage to N. Ireland.

    I have no idea which of these two outcomes will occur, although I hope its the latter (actual defeat for the ‘Yes’ side being apparently too much to hope for).

  • Catcher in the Rye

    If “marriage equality” is a “fundamental human right” in 2015, why was it not so regarded by Amnesty until relatively recently?

    Because the definition of fundamental human rights changes as our society becomes increasingly aware of injustice and suffering.

    It’s also striking to note Corrigan’s contempt for representative democracy. He wants to bypass the repeated expressed will of the Assembly and get gay marriage approved by the back door of the high court on “human rights” ground.

    That is because human rights are above the legislative process. The Assembly cannot, even unanimously, pass legislation that violates the UK’s human rights obligations.

    If Amnesty really was serious about standing up for people being oppressed by the state on the grounds of consicence it would be supporting the McArthur family.

    The court found that the McArthur family discriminated against a gay person and held that it attempted to use the conscience issue as a pretext. Nobody concerned with human rights could possibly try to defend that.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Amnesty is mainly concerned with drawing attention to lesser-known abuses by state actors. The IRA is not a state, and I’m sure most people are well aware of its role in terrorism and murdering people.

  • Chingford Man

    The definitions of fundamental human rights only change when a school of legal interpretation takes the plain meaning of the ECHR or the US Constitution (the meaning that the drafters intended) as a starting point to “discover” all kinds of new meanings that, funnily enough, correlate to the politically correct norms of the day.

    That has often meant back-door legislation by the judiciary: bypassing representative legislatures and/or public opinion by inappropriately recasting political issues as ones of human rights.

    I repeat my point: no one 8 or 10 years ago regarded the restriction of marriage to one man partnering one woman as a breach of human rights. In fact many of the loudest proponents of gay marriage today were celebrating the introduction of civil partnerships and declaring no interest in “equal marriage”. Legislators in the Britain of a decade ago were at pains to say that no steps beyond civil partnerships were envisaged.

    (That also deals with the “injustice and suffering” angle that you raised, because those in civil partnerships have no inferior legal rights to those in marriages. Of course many of those activists, whilst supporting civil partnerships for gay couples, were totally opposed to people in non-sexual relationships from obtaining the same benefits.)

    I suspect that much of the fury visible on Slugger derives from the fact that: (a) Northern Ireland is one of the few places in the western world where social liberals haven’t captured a critical mass of the political class, and (b) by chance the issue has emerged at a point when its opponents can block a vote indefinitely at Stormont.

    For all the occasionally unacceptable statements of some DUP members, the party remains committed to a socially conservative vision of society and sees the issue of gay marriage, correctly, as a political issue and not a human rights one. No wonder the progressives are so furious.

    The court may have found against the McArthurs but you are well aware of the disquiet felt even amongst people that otherwise agree with you that this determination is unjust.

  • Robin Keogh

    Ultimately it comes down to the sort of person you think you are compared to the sort of person you actually are. Gay marraige can hurt nobody, has zero impact on the lives of those who are hetrosexuall. Denying gay people marraige equality has nothing to do with God or children or anything else for that matter its just a denial for the sake of it a way to vent plain old nasty homophobia as bad as sectarianism, bigotry and racism.

  • Robin Keogh

    Little do you know and little do u pay attention in your black hole of a head. Amnesty work on many issues across the globe with millions of volunteers everywhere doing incredible work without fear of favour no matter color, race,, religion or sexual orienation. Its called loving thy neighbour. try it sometime.

  • Robin Keogh

    They stay out of genuine freedom fights

  • james

    So fighting for the rights of gay people is not a genuine freedom fight? Ah Robin….how can we trust your moralizing when your principles are so easily bought and sold?

  • Chingford Man

    You mean this freedom fight?

    “On May 19, 1980, Jack McClenaghan, a 63-year-old Protestant, was shot dead while he was delivering bread in Garrison, Co Fermanagh. He had retired from the UDR four years before and was regarded by local Protestants and Catholics alike as a ‘peace-loving and inoffensive man’.

    “Douglas Deering was the last Protestant shopkeeper in Rosslea, in south-east Fermanagh. He was not and never had been a member of the security forces. Married with three children he attended a Gospel hall in Clones. He was shot dead in his shop on May 12, 1978. His shop had been bombed four times by the time of his murder.”

    http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/jim-cusack-ira-engaged-in-ethnic-cleansing-of-protestants-along-border-29150363.html

  • Granni Trixie

    Sorry to say but Amnesty NI have a black mark against them also in respect to punishment beatings during the troubles when they had a rule that local Amnesty groups did not comment on what was going on in their own country.
    That said – they have changed that rule and have always done terrific work across the world. No one is perfect.

  • Granni Trixie

    Not just Nationalists!

  • Granni Trixie

    Surely it is not on his approach to one single issue that attracted votes, surely it is that he presents himself as ‘a reasonable,decent man’.

    So why is he in the UUP who did a pact with the DUP?

  • Granni Trixie

    If only. What about DUP MLAs who have gay relatives?

  • Granni Trixie

    Good idea.

  • Chingford Man

    I think that Kinahan’s style is more in line with that of Molyneaux and Forsythe. Willie McCrea never seemed to be a natural fit there. I also imagine one could support a mutually beneficial electoral pact and still be a decent person.

  • Granni Trixie

    With respect, in the context of NI I call such pacts, sectarian, and in the long term not in the its interests.

  • Robin Keogh

    I dont understand, aids/ hiv ??

  • Robin Keogh

    James, you always seem to go out of your way to deliberatly mis interpret my words, is it a fetish?

  • Pete

    Fair enough, I can understand that you’d feel that way about the pact.

    But I thought you’d previously posted saying that you were heavily involved with the Alliance Party? That would be the same Alliance Party who asked the UUP to step aside in East Belfast (after Alliance withdrew from North down) in 2001 to try to help Alderdice beat Peter Robinson?

  • james

    Certainly not. Perhaps you could read again what you wrote and explain how I’ve misinterpreted.

  • Granni Trixie

    This is the first I have heard of EB and JA so cannot comment. However I do know that APNI standing aside in 2001 n NOrth Down was to favour Sylvia Hermon with the goal of ousting Bob McCartney. I personally argued against this as a mistaken tactic – progress is never about one person- and the Party conceded with hindsight it was one they would not use again. The valuable lesson is ofcourse that ultimately a party usually loses out long term when it stands aside.