Equal Marriage NI Committee Elected

Last night, Wednesday 5th September, a public meeting was held in order to elect the Equal Marriage NI Committee who will head the campaign for the fight for equal marriage in Northern Ireland. While much heated discussion has taken place online in regards the running of the election and the committee, the night went ahead successfully and votes were cast and counted.

The following positions were elected:

John O’Doherty – Chairperson

Mark Brown – Vice Chairperson
Malachai O’Hara – Vice Chairperson
Nicholas Young – Campaigns Officer
Gavin Boyd – Communications Officer
Cara McCann – Treasurer
Matthew McDermott – Secretary
Pádraig Ó Tuama – Faith Representative
Ciaran Moynagh – Non Executive Officer
Adam Murray – Non Executive Officer

A full breakdown of the election results can be found on Gyronny.com.

Now the hard work begins as the campaign works towards securing full equality of marriage.
You can follow the campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

Millar Farr Believes Law Should Be Based on the Bible?

“How politicians can imagine they have the right to create legislation which is contrary to holy scripture is beyond belief.”

Millar Farr, Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution, spoke at north and west Tyrone demonstration for Black Saturday. According to The Newsletter there were around 1,000 members of the institution on parade in 24 preceptories accompanied by 22 bands from Strabane, Castlederg and Omagh.

In his speech, Farr spoke of the adoration towards the Queen and Royal Family, as usual, while also chiming in on the issue of gay marriage stating:

“In God’s law there is no provision for same-sex marriage,” he said. “Holy scripture is quite clear on the subject – marriage is between male and female only.”

“While man-made laws can be changed, God’s law is unchangeable. How politicians can imagine they have the right to create legislation which is contrary to holy scripture is beyond belief.”

What else would he like to see made illegal?

Pride Talks Back 2012

pride talks back
From left: Gavin Robinson (DUP), Martina Anderson (Sinn Fein), Anna Lo (Alliance), Steven Agnew (Green Party), Conall McDevitt (SDLP) and Michael Copeland (UUP)

On Wednesday evening Belfast Pride hosted its annual Pride Talks Back debate with local politicians. The main story from the event is not so much in its content, but simply the fact that a small bit of history was made in the presence of a DUP representative, Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson, who chose to take part. Not to dismiss the bravery of Gavin Robinson to turn up and give his opposing, “alternative”, view on LGBT issues, it should also be noted that DUP should not have taken so long to take part in such debate as it is their job to represent the public. The other members of the panel were Martina Anderson (Sinn Fein), Anna Lo (Alliance), Steven Agnew (Green Party), Conall McDevitt (SDLP) and Michael Copeland (UUP).

The first question presented to the panel was: ‘Do you support change in the law to introduce equal marriage?’ It was only the DUP representative who responded with a definitive “no”. Michael Copeland stated that his “…party view is that we believe in equality…”, Steven Agnew said, “We pro-actively support the right to same-sex couples to marry.” Martina Anderson: “Sinn Fein are driving the change and motion to councils.” Anna Lo: “The party sees it as an important issue.” She also stated that party leader, David Ford, does support marriage equality, and that the issue is due to be discussed at a forthcoming party meeting on 1st September.

Gavin Robinson jokingly stated:
“This isn’t an issue that the DUP try to take ownership over.” In answer to the question: “No, neither personally, nor as a party.” He added that he has set himself up to engage with “every aspect of our society and all people.” yet he did make it clear that “we won’t always agree.” He then proceeded to repeat the religious rhetoric that he believes in “marriage as a foundation,” that he “believes in the biblical definition of marriage: between a man and a woman, that it has a “scriptural basis.” On civil partnerships he said that “they are there, and are the law. We didn’t agree at the time and we still don’t.” In response to someone from the floor Gavin said, “No matter how passionately you express your opinion… it doesn’t dilute the definition of marriage.”

Throughout the event Michael Copeland was a voice for equality:

“Why do we make things complicated which are so very simple: Every person is equal. I would never associate myself with a group who says ‘you are different’.
“In the past people were persecuted because of religion, political affiliation, gender, race etc.”

Gavin responded to this by saying that, “Michael’s note has been the least helpful,” reiterating that he doesn’t believe that anyone here is “less than” him, “if I thought anyone in this room was less than me, I wouldn’t be here.”

For the most part of the evening Gavin sat emotionless. Often with his arms folded, looking down at the table, away from the other panel members, or towards his empty water glass. He rarely smiled, and didn’t applaud any comments made by the panel or members of the audience.

William Crawley, who did a great job as always in chairing the event. Not afraid to ask difficult questions, repeat or clarify the points made by the panel, and bring his own wealth of knowledge to the debate. He asked of Gavin, “Should the bible be implemented in law: a theocracy?” To which his response was simply to repeat that he believes “marriage to be between a man and a woman.”

When asked whether he agrees with colleagues that homosexuality is comparable to “bestiality” and “pedophilia”, as well as those who have described it as “sodomy” and an “abomination” Gavin stated, “I believe in freedom of speech, providing it doesn’t lead to hate crime. I don’t think that it is crossing the line…”

The thing is, this is not simply “freedom of speech” as it is damaging and by not condemning this language it does lead to hate crimes against people who take it on board. As Fidelma Carolan of Unison stated, “Words have a great impact. People agree with them… Families may talk about it over dinner… these words can lead to children self-harming…”

On the issue of the recent continued ban on donations of blood by gay people by Health Minister Edwin Poots, Steven Agnew stated that he believes the “decision is based on religious views”, while Gavin Robinson responded that it is “based only on scientific consideration,” however full scientific evidence of this is yet to be brought forward by the health minister. Anna Lo brought up the point that we need more blood in Northern Ireland.

This debate was necessary, and the presence of the DUP shows a certain amount of progress. It isn’t long ago that a DUP member would not have sat beside a Sinn Fein member, let alone discussing LGBT issues. The very fact that there was opposition in the room, bringing to the debate an “alternative” view, is progress, and such opposition appearing at debates should always take place, without fear. However, there is a lot more discussion that needs to take place within the DUP, and in Stormont as a whole. Education is a huge issue, and, as Duane Farrell, chair of The Rainbow Project, said “homophobia in schools is a bigger issue than equal marriage, as it has bigger impact.”

Hopefully this is the start of a much larger debate which the DUP will engage in. We must remind ourselves that they are the the largest party in Northern Ireland and represent the largest number of people, of all backgrounds, and that they must do their job to represent every member of our society. Using biblical text, taken out of context, and where there is little consistency, is not how any democratic government should be run.

‘Discussion: The Right to Gay Marriage’

Reverend Chris Hudson

Eamon Gilmore TD, Leader of the Labour Party in Ireland, Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade, said at the beginning of the month that “the right of gay couples to marry is, quite simply, the civil rights issue of this generation,” and it may be difficult to see it as anything other than that, or at least up there in the top 5, for the sake of argument.

Today, as part of Belfast Pride, All Souls Church hosted a discussion on why “gay marriage”, or quite simply “marriage equality” should be legislated in the UK and Ireland, led by Rev. Chris Hudson.

Rev. Hudson began with a small bit on his own background, stating that he has 20 years’ experience as a trade union official, working for workers rights, and specifically the rights of women in the workplace. He also worked as the head of the South African anti-apartheid movement in Ireland. Chris also works closely with Changing Attitude Ireland, an organisation seeking “full acceptance and welcome for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons in the Churches in Ireland.” He is clearly an advocate for the rights of people and works hard to do just that, and, as stated this afternoon, this paper marks the beginning of his personal campaign for marriage equality in Northern Ireland.

“It is an incorrect position that all Christians are against marriage equality.”

It is essential to contextualise this debate with other sociological problems. Until 1967 not every state in the USA was it legal for interracial marriage to take place. However, this still takes place within some Baptist churches in the United States, as recently as last week.

While changes were made so that “coloured” people were allowed to sit in the middle of the bus, so the comparison can be drawn to the introduction of civil partnerships: it’s the middle of the bus. Not fully equal. Marriage equality, Hudson stated, is about extending the current legislation on marriage, “not about creating another institution for gay people, as in the case of civil partnerships.”

Another example raised by Rev. Hudson is St Paul’s writings on women, how they are to be subordinate to men, the are allowed to read, but not to teach and other statements which today are taken as completely sexist and not acceptable anywhere. We do not live today by the standards and cultural norms of two millennia.

1 Corinthians 14*
33: …As in all the churches of the saints, 34: the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. 35: If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Or in 1 Tim. 2: 11-15
I give no permission for a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. A woman ought to be quiet, because Adam was formed first and Eve afterwards, and it was not Adam who was led astray but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin. Nevertheless, she will be saved by child-bearing, provided she lives a sensible life and is constant in faith and love and holiness.

Rev. Hudson’s campaign is “deliberately religious”, as he states that LGBT people of faith will be denied the same rights as those without faith if the “secular” campaign continues its campaign to separate the religious blessing and civil/legal marriage. This denies those same-sex couples of faith who wish to be married in a church. Part of Chris’ campaign is to allow for legislation of marriages within churches, for those who wish to authorise this ceremony. Currently, within Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland it is illegal for churches to perform same-sex civil partnerships, leaving some to conduct a prayer at the reception, or a blessing at another time from the civil ceremony, as Chris Hudson has done himself in the past (I was present for one myself).

“The Catholic Church is obsessed with the male genitals… Is Christianity not about God’s love? Style over substance. Some churches still have issue of women in the church simply because they don’t have the right genital make-up to be a priest.”

Hudson made the point that governments “should legislate to suit all denominations: one law for all.”

“If debating with people who take a literalist view on the bible, it may be an hour you won’t get back”.

I have only stated a small selection of Chris Hudson’s words as he said them today, and are written up here . He is just one voice fighting for Equal Marriage in Northern Ireland, and one among many within the religious community. As he, and others, have stated often: there is not one homogeneous religious view in society, and it is false to claim that there is “one religious view, or indeed one Christian Church which holds the truth.”